How to Subtract in Excel Formula: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

How to Subtract in Excel Formula

Subtracting numbers in Excel is a simple task that can be done using a basic formula. To subtract one number from another, you simply use the minus sign (-). For example, to subtract cell B2 from cell A2, you would use the formula =A2-B2. You can apply this formula to any cells you need to subtract, making it a powerful tool for handling different kinds of data.

Step by Step Tutorial on How to Subtract in Excel Formula

Subtracting numbers in Excel is straightforward. Follow these steps to get the job done quickly.

Step 1: Open Excel and Select a Cell

First, open your Excel spreadsheet and click on the cell where you want the result to appear.

Choosing the right cell is crucial. Make sure it is empty to avoid overwriting any existing data.

Step 2: Enter the Equal Sign

Start by typing an equal sign (=) into the cell.

The equal sign tells Excel that you are about to enter a formula. Without it, Excel won’t recognize your input as a formula.

Step 3: Enter the First Number or Cell Reference

Type the first number or click on the cell that contains the first number you want to subtract from.

Using cell references (like A2) instead of actual numbers makes your formula dynamic, updating the result automatically if the values change.

Step 4: Type the Minus Sign

After the first number or cell reference, type a minus sign (-).

The minus sign indicates that you are performing a subtraction operation.

Step 5: Enter the Second Number or Cell Reference

Now, type the second number or click on the cell that contains the second number you want to subtract.

Like before, using a cell reference keeps your formula flexible and easy to adjust.

Step 6: Press Enter

Finally, press the Enter key on your keyboard.

Excel will calculate the result and display it in the selected cell.

After completing these steps, you’ll see the result of your subtraction. The cell will show the difference between the two numbers or cell values you specified.

Tips for Subtracting in Excel Formula

  • Use Cell References: Always use cell references instead of typing numbers directly. This keeps your formulas adaptable.
  • Double-Check Your Entries: Make sure you clicked on the correct cells to avoid errors.
  • Use Parentheses for Complex Formulas: If you are working with more complex equations, use parentheses to ensure Excel performs operations in the correct order.
  • Leverage AutoFill: Drag the fill handle to apply the formula to multiple cells quickly.
  • Review Error Messages: If you get an error, check for common issues like missing equal signs or incorrect cell references.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I want to subtract more than two numbers?

You can extend the formula to include more numbers. For instance, =A2-B2-C2 subtracts both B2 and C2 from A2.

Can I subtract across different worksheets?

Yes, you can. Use the sheet name followed by an exclamation mark before the cell reference, like this: =Sheet1!A2-Sheet2!B2.

How do I subtract percentages in Excel?

Simply convert the percentage to a decimal and use the same subtraction formula. For example, to subtract 25% from A2, use =A2-(A2*0.25).

What do I do if my formula isn’t working?

Check for common errors like missing equal signs, incorrect cell references, or extra spaces. Excel will often give an error message that can guide you to the problem.

Can I see the formula used in a cell?

Yes, click on the cell, and the formula will appear in the formula bar at the top of the Excel window.


  1. Open Excel and select a cell.
  2. Enter the equal sign.
  3. Enter the first number or cell reference.
  4. Type the minus sign.
  5. Enter the second number or cell reference.
  6. Press Enter.


Subtracting in Excel formula is one of the simplest yet most powerful tools you can use to make your data work for you. Whether you’re subtracting costs from revenues, calculating differences in data sets, or just doing basic arithmetic, knowing how to subtract in Excel can save you time and effort.

Remember to use cell references to keep your formulas flexible and easy to update. If you run into problems, double-check your formula for common errors. With practice, you’ll become proficient in no time. For further reading, consider exploring other Excel functions like SUM, AVERAGE, and IF to enhance your data analysis skills. Happy calculating!

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