- 1 How to Subtract Cells in Excel (Simple Subtraction)
- 2 How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell using the Minus Sign (-)
- 3 How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell with the SUM Function
- 4 How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell Using the SUM Function With Negative Numbers
- 5 How to Subtract Columns in Excel
- 6 How to Subtract the Same Number from a Column of Numbers
- 7 How to Subtract Percentages in Excel
- 8 How to Subtract Time in Excel
- 9 How to Subtract Dates in Excel
- 10 How to Subtract the Text of One Cell from Another in Excel
- 11 How to Matrix Subtract in Excel
- 12 Extra: How to Combine Text Cells in Excel
- 13 Extra: How to Square Root in Excel
We all need to subtract numbers at one point or another, but sometimes a calculator just won't cut it. For those situations, we have software, and so today we're going to show you how to subtract in Excel.
The Excel subtraction formula and variations
While base subtraction is admittedly every easy, things start to get a bit more complex once you consider all the different ways you might want to subtract. You might need to subtract multiple cells from one cell with positive or negative numbers, subtract columns from each other, subtract the same number from a column of numbers, subtract percentages, text, dates…the list goes on.
The good news is that we'll be covering almost everything in that list today. By the time we're finished, you'll be a master of Excel subtraction formulas and will be able to apply them in a variety of situations. Let's get started with the basics:
How to Subtract Cells in Excel (Simple Subtraction)
As you'd expect, simple subtraction in Excel is incredibly easy. All you need to do is ensure that you have two cells with numbers in, or even just two numbers in your mind.
Then you can enter the following in your total cell:
- Type “=Cell1-Cell2” in your total cell
After you type “=” you'll get the ability to click on cells to select them. You can click on one cell, press the “-” key, then click on another cell and press Enter to get your total.
Alternatively, you can type numbers straight into your spreadsheet. “=2-1” is a completely valid formula for example. Generally, it's recommended you keep your numbers in separate cells so that you can change them later if you need to, however.
How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell using the Minus Sign (-)
To subtract multiple cells from a single cell, you have a few options. The most basic is simply using the minus sign:
- Minus each of the cells from the first cell
Looking at our example below, you could minus all of the expenses from the income value with the following Excel subtraction formula:
There is a faster way to do this, however, which we'll show below.
How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell with the SUM Function
The SUM function in Excel will add up all numbers in a specified group of cells. This makes the formula more compact and saves time.
- Subtract numbers from your original cell with the SUM function
In our example, we can type
=D3-SUM(D4:D8). This will take our original number (1,200), and minus it from our rent, internet, power, food, and other expenses cells added together (855).
You can quickly select numbers in a column with the SUM formula by clicking on the top cell after your first open brackets, then holding shift and clicking on the bottom cell. You can then type a closed bracket to complete the formula.
How to Subtract Multiple Cells from One Cell Using the SUM Function With Negative Numbers
As subtracting a negative number is the same as adding it, another way to solve our example is by making all of our expenses negative and performing a single SUM on all of the numbers:
- Add a – in front of the numbers you want to subtract from the original cell and type “=SUM(Cell1:Cell5)” in the formula box
Of course, you should replace “Cell1” and “Cell2” with the actual references for your cells. In our case you can see that the final formula is
=SUM(D3:D8), but the result is the same as if we were to do
=D3-SUM(D4:D8)due to the negative expense numbers.
How to Subtract Columns in Excel
If you'd like to subtract two columns row by row, you can use the following trick:
- Type the subtraction for the two columns in the first row of your total, then click and drag the corner of the cell down to the bottom
In this case, the two columns we want to subtract from one another is our income (column C) and our expenditure (column D). Therefore, the formula for the first cell of our total column would be
Now, rather than typing this out for each row of the columns, we can click and drag from the edge of the first cell of our total. Excel will automatically add one to the column numbers for each row it's dragged, giving the correct calculation.
- Excel will automatically subtract each row of the columns from one another and display it in the total column
How to Subtract the Same Number from a Column of Numbers
So, what if you want to subtract a single number from a column of different cells? This gets a little less intuitive, but we can modify the trick we performed earlier to speed things up.
- Minus an absolute cell from the first number in your column, then click and drag to copy the formula down
Remember a second ago our cell numbers changed sequentially when we copied our formula down the column? In this case, we don't want this. Instead, we want to define an absolute reference like so:
We're telling our formula: minus our first cell, which is allowed to change, with our second cell, which is not allowed to change. Therefore, even though our first cell has changed, the number subtracted from it will always be the one in Cell2.
- The formula will be copied down the row, only subtracting the specified static cell
How to Subtract Percentages in Excel
You can subtract two percentages in Excel the same as you would any other number: with the minus symbol. Things get a little more complicated when you want to subtract a percentage from a regular number, however.
Let's look at both below:
- Subtract one percentage from another with the minus symbol
Subtracting a percentage from another percentage is as easy as typing
=cell1-cell2in your formula bar. If both are percentages, you'll automatically be presented with the difference between the two. However, you must make sure that your cell formatting is set to percentages for this to work.
- Decreasing a number by a percentage
You can also use Excel to decrease a number by a percentage specified in another cell. All you need to do is set your percentage cells to percentage formatting and your regular number to number formatting. Then you can enter the following formula:
Cell 1* (1-Cell2)
You can see an example of this in action below:
- OR: Minus the percentage as an absolute reference
Remember in one of the previous steps we used an absolute reference to minus the same number from multiple cells? We can do the same with percentages using this Excel subtraction formula:
Again, make sure that your cells have their relevant formatting for the type of number presented.
How to Subtract Time in Excel
If you're wondering how to subtract time in Excel, the answer is simple. Just set the cell format to time and use the minus symbol. Excel will do all of the hard work for you:
- Use the minus symbol to subtract one time from another
Once you have your times down, it's enough to just minus one cell from another as normal. The final Excel subtraction formula, then, would look something like this:
It's really that easy.
How to Subtract Dates in Excel
Using Excel to subtract dates is easy. It works the same as subtracting a number or percentage. You can just set your formatting to dates place the trusty minus symbol between the two cells in your formula:
- Select your total cell and type “=Cell1-Cell2” in your formula bar
Press Enter to complete the calculation. It will output the number of days between the two dates.
- Drag down from the bottom-right corner of the cell to fill in the rest of your column
The calculation will automatically apply sequentially to the dates in your table.
How to Subtract the Text of One Cell from Another in Excel
It's a little more niche, but at times you may need to subtract the text of one cell from another or remove a number from the end of a cell. This could be useful if you have product items with a unique identifier attached, for example, but also want a human-friendly, readable name.
Here's how you'd do that:
- Use the Trim and Substitute commands to remove text from the end of a cell
To subtract the text of one cell from another you can use the substitute function and replace it with an empty space. Trim then removes any extra spaces. So, without our cells, the formula would look like this:
=TRIM(SUBSITUTE(your full text, the text you want to subtract,""))
Naturally, for this to work your cells must have the relevant formatting type, with text set to text and numbers to number.
You can also perform subsitute/trim in a table by referencing the cell instead of typing out the text in full:
You can see the results in the example below:
- OR: Substitute a single phrase/number from a range of cells
If the text you want to subtract is the same in every cell of your column, you don't need a separate number column. Instead, you can just set the right formatting for each cells and then specify the text you want to remove in your substitute formula:
=TRIM(SUBSITUTE(Cell1, "Text to remove",""))
How to Matrix Subtract in Excel
If you're unfamiliar, a matrix is a set of numbers. Sometimes you'll want to subtract two sets of numbers from one another in the order that they appear in their respective tables and output the result. If this is hard to visualize, don't worry – there will be examples below.
Here's how to do matrix subtraction in Excel:
- Set up three tables and type the matrix subtraction formula
Your tables should be laid somewhat like the example below, though technically they can be anywhere on your page. The formula itself isn't complicated – but the steps to get the results are a little different from what you're used to.
First, highlight the empty cells of your results table so that Excel knows to output the result across the entire range. Then, type the following formula (replacing the words with the relevant cell references) and press CTRL + SHIFT + Enter:
It's important that you remember to press Ctrl + SHIFT + Enter, as this is what will make it an array formula.
- Check your result cells for curly braces
To verify that the formula is an array, you can click on any of your result cells and see that the formula is surrounded by curly braces instead of regular ones.
Extra: How to Combine Text Cells in Excel
We've shown you how to subtract text in Excel, but what if you want to combine the text of two cells into one? For that, you'll need the Concatenate formula. You can check our full guide on how to concatenate in Excel here.
Extra: How to Square Root in Excel
For more Excel math, you can check our how to square root in Excel with three different formulas guide. It should give you a better idea of how Excel formulas function in general.