How to Subtract in Excel: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

Subtracting numbers in Excel is a straightforward process. You can use either a simple formula or the "SUM" function. To subtract numbers, simply input your numbers in two different cells and create a formula in another cell that subtracts one number from the other. You’ll be up and running in no time!

Step-by-Step Tutorial for Subtracting in Excel

In this guide, you’ll learn how to subtract numbers in Excel using both a basic formula and the "SUM" function. Let’s dive right in.

Step 1: Open Excel

Open up Excel on your computer.

Once you’ve got Excel open, make sure you’re in a new or existing worksheet where you want to perform the subtraction.

Step 2: Enter Your Numbers

Input the numbers you want to subtract in two different cells.

For example, put the number 10 in cell A1 and the number 5 in cell B1.

Step 3: Select An Empty Cell

Click on an empty cell where you want the result of the subtraction to appear.

This cell will hold the formula and the result. Let’s say we select cell C1.

Step 4: Type the Subtraction Formula

Type the formula =A1-B1 in the selected cell.

This formula tells Excel to subtract the value in cell B1 from the value in cell A1.

Step 5: Press Enter

Press the Enter key on your keyboard.

Voila! Your result should now appear in cell C1. You should see the number 5 if you followed the example.

Step 6: Using the SUM Function (Optional)

If you prefer, you can also use the "SUM" function to subtract by typing =SUM(A1, -B1).

This method is handy when dealing with more complex calculations. The -B1 part subtracts B1 from A1.

When you complete these steps, you’ll see the result of your subtraction in the cell where you inputted the formula. It’s quick and easy, making it perfect for beginners and pros alike.

Tips for Subtracting in Excel

  1. Double-check your cell references: Make sure the cell references in your formula correctly point to the cells containing the numbers you want to subtract.
  2. Use parentheses for clarity: If you mix subtraction with other operations, use parentheses to make sure Excel performs the operations in the order you intend.
  3. Negative numbers: If you need to subtract a negative number, remember that subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive.
  4. Auto-fill feature: You can drag the fill handle (a small square at the bottom-right of the selected cell) to apply the same formula to adjacent cells.
  5. Named ranges: For frequently used cells, consider naming the ranges to make your formulas easier to read and manage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you subtract more than two numbers in Excel?

Yes, you can subtract multiple numbers by extending your formula. For example, =A1-B1-C1.

What happens if I subtract text values?

Excel will return an error if you try to subtract text values. Ensure your cells contain numbers.

Can I use subtraction in conditional formatting?

Yes, you can use subtraction in conditional formatting to highlight cells based on their values.

How do I subtract dates in Excel?

You can subtract dates to find the difference in days using a formula like =A1-B1, where A1 and B1 are date cells.

Is there a shortcut to subtract within a cell?

No, formulas must be typed out manually. However, using the AutoSum feature can speed up the process for addition and subtraction.


  1. Open Excel.
  2. Enter your numbers.
  3. Select an empty cell.
  4. Type the subtraction formula.
  5. Press Enter.
  6. Optionally use the SUM function.


Subtracting in Excel is a breeze once you get the hang of it. With just a few steps, you can perform basic and complex subtractions seamlessly. Whether you’re subtracting numbers, dates, or incorporating subtraction into larger formulas, Excel’s robust functionality has you covered. So, fire up Excel and start crunching those numbers! And if you want to dive deeper, many online tutorials and resources can offer additional insights into more advanced Excel operations. Happy calculating!

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