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How to Add on Excel with the Sum Formula, AutoSum or the Plus Sign

We show you how to use the SUM formula in Excel, how to use the AutoSum feature and how simple additions with the plus sign work.


Excel is the most widely-used spreadsheet program, integral to data management and analysis across various sectors. One of its fundamental operations is addition, a basic yet essential arithmetic function. Properly understanding and utilizing Excel's addition capabilities can lead to more efficient data processing and accurate results.

In this tutorial, we will examine the different techniques available in Excel for performing addition. These methods range from the straightforward use of the plus sign to the application of functions like SUM and AutoSum. Each technique has its specific applications and advantages, depending on the dataset and the desired outcome.

By familiarizing yourself with these addition methods, you can ensure that your calculations in Excel are both precise and tailored in the best way.

How to Add on Excel Using the Plus Sign

In Excel, the plus sign (+) serves as a direct arithmetic operator. This method is ideal for quick, on-the-spot calculations where users need to add two or more numbers without the need for more complex functions. It's the most basic form of addition in Excel, suitable for straightforward operations where only a few numbers are involved.

  1. Select the cell where you want to calculate a sum and use + in the formula bar
    To sum 20+5, simply write =20+5 and hit Enter. You can also use other operators like – for substraction, / for division, and * for multiplication and combine them with as many numbers you want to.
    Windows 11 - Excel - Add Numbers Using Plus Sign
  2. This works also by using cell names instead of numbers
    Example: To sum the values of cells B3 and C3, simply use =B3+C3 as a formula and hit Enter.
    Windows 11 - Excel - Add Numbers Using Plus Sign Using Cell References

How to Use the AutoSum Function in Excel

The AutoSum function is a built-in tool designed for automatic summation. Its primary purpose is to provide users with a quick way to sum a series of numbers, especially in columns or rows. By eliminating the need for manual selection and entry of cell ranges, AutoSum streamlines the addition process, making it especially useful for datasets with numerous entries.

  1. Select the result cell, then “Home” – “Editing” and “AutoSum”
    When you click on the AutoSum button, Excel primarily looks for numbers adjacent to the cell where you're trying to insert the sum. If there are numbers directly above or to the left of the active cell, Excel will assume you want to sum those numbers.
    Windows 11 - Excel - Home - Editing - AutoSum
  2. Check the suggested SUM formula for the addition and hit Enter if it´s good
    If the cell directly above the active cell contains a number (or a series of numbers above it), Excel will default to summing the column. Conversely, if the cell to the immediate left of the active cell has a number, Excel will sum the row.
    If there are blank cells or non-numeric entries in a column or row, AutoSum will typically only include the contiguous range of numbers immediately adjacent to the cell where you're inserting the sum. For instance, if you're summing a column and there's a blank cell, AutoSum will stop at the cell just above the blank and won't include numbers above that break.
    Windows 11 - Excel - Home - Editing - AutoSum - Enter
  3. Excel will provide the result in the previously selected cell
    Things to consider:

    Manual Selection – While AutoSum tries to guess the range you want to sum, you're not restricted to its initial selection. After clicking the AutoSum button, you can manually adjust the selected range by clicking and dragging the corners of the highlighted area to include or exclude specific cells.
    Multiple Ranges – If you want to sum multiple non-contiguous ranges, you can use the AutoSum feature and then manually adjust by holding down the Ctrl key (Cmd key on Mac) and selecting additional cell ranges. Excel will then sum all the selected ranges.

    Windows 11 - Excel - Home - Editing - AutoSum - Result

How to Add Numbers Using the SUM Function in Excel

The SUM function is one of Excel's foundational formulas, designed to add numbers with precision and flexibility. Unlike the basic plus sign or the automated AutoSum, the SUM function allows users to specify a range of cells, individual cell references, or even a combination of both. It's the go-to method for more complex addition tasks, accommodating a wide variety of data structures and scenarios.

  1. Write the SUM formula in the result cell and hit Enter
    Example: To add all the numbers in the cells C3 until C8, you can write =SUM(C3:C8). The brackets and the “:” define that you want to sum all number in this range.
    Windows 11 - Excel - SUM

Extra: How to Divide in Excel

In Excel, you can divide using cell references, handle errors like dividing by zero, and even combine division with other operations for more complex calculations. In our other guide, you will learn basic to advanced functions for division, handle errors, and optimize calculations for maximum efficiency.
Featured - How to divide in Excel

Extra: How to Remove Table Formatting in Excel

In Excel, you can apply predefined table styles, making your data presentation-ready. However, there are instances where you might want to strip away the table formatting without losing the underlying data. In our other guide we show you various techniques to remove table formatting in Excel.
Featured - how to remove table formatting in excel

Extra: How to Structure Collected Data in Excel

To make the most of Excel's features, you need to structure your data properly. Data structure refers to how you organize your data in a spreadsheet. A good data structure makes it easy to perform calculations, filter, and sort data, create charts and pivot tables, and apply formulas and functions. In our other guide, we show you how to structure collected data in Excel using some best practices and tips.
Featured How to Structure Collected Data in Excel

Extra: How to Add Shading to Alternating Rows in Excel

It's an old trick at this point, but applying shading (zebra stripes) to alternative rows in Excel makes your sheet easier to read. The effect, also known as banded row, allows your eyes to keep their place more easily when you're scanning a spreadsheet. The difficulty, then comes in knowing where to look and how to format cells as a table in the first place. In our other guide, we show you how to apply and customize table formatting to form alternating rows in Excel.
Featured - How to Apply Shading to Alternate Rows in Excel

Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus is the founder of WinBuzzer and has been playing with Windows and technology for more than 25 years. He is holding a Master´s degree in International Economics and previously worked as Lead Windows Expert for Softonic.com.