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

how to use left formula in excel

The LEFT formula in Excel is a nifty tool that lets you extract a specific number of characters from the beginning of a text string in a cell. It’s useful for tasks like extracting initials, prefixes, or other specific parts of a text. To use it, you enter the formula =LEFT(text, num_chars) where text is the cell reference and num_chars is the number of characters you want to pull out from the left.

Step by Step Tutorial on Using the LEFT Formula in Excel

Ready to master the LEFT formula in Excel? These steps will guide you through how to use this formula to pull out specific characters from a text string in a cell.

Step 1: Open Excel and Select Your Worksheet

First things first, open Excel and select the worksheet you want to work on.

Whether you have a new worksheet or one you’ve been working on, navigate to the cell where you want to display your extracted text.

Step 2: Click on the Target Cell

Step 2, click on the cell where you want the result of the LEFT formula to appear.

This is where the extracted text will be shown. By selecting this cell, you’re telling Excel where to place the output.

Step 3: Enter the LEFT Formula

Step 3, type =LEFT( into the selected cell.

The formula always starts with an equal sign followed by the word LEFT and an open parenthesis. This tells Excel you are about to use the LEFT function.

Step 4: Input the Cell Reference

Step 4, enter the cell reference containing the text you want to extract from.

If your text is in cell A1, you would type A1 after the open parenthesis. This tells Excel which cell to look at.

Step 5: Specify the Number of Characters

Step 5, type a comma followed by the number of characters you want.

For example, if you want the first 3 characters, type 3 after the comma. This tells Excel how many characters to extract.

Step 6: Close the Parenthesis and Press Enter

Step 6, close the parenthesis and hit Enter.

Your complete formula should look something like =LEFT(A1, 3). Pressing Enter will execute the formula, and you’ll see the extracted text in your selected cell.

After completing these steps, Excel will display the specified number of characters from the left side of the text string in your chosen cell.

Tips for Using the LEFT Formula in Excel

  • Use cell references to keep your formulas dynamic. Instead of typing the text directly into the formula, refer to a cell. This way, any updates you make to the cell will automatically reflect in your formula.
  • Combine with other functions. You can use the LEFT function with other Excel functions like LEN or FIND for more complex text manipulation.
  • Watch out for spaces. If your text contains leading spaces, the LEFT function will include them, which might not be what you want.
  • Test your formula. Before applying it to a large dataset, test it on a few cells to ensure it behaves as expected.
  • Use it for data cleaning. The LEFT formula is handy for cleaning up and standardizing data, especially when dealing with large datasets.

Frequently Asked Questions about Using the LEFT Formula in Excel

What does the LEFT formula do in Excel?

The LEFT formula extracts a specified number of characters from the beginning of a text string.

Can I combine the LEFT formula with other formulas?

Yes, you can combine it with other functions like LEN, FIND, and CONCATENATE for more advanced text manipulation.

Is there a limit to the number of characters I can extract?

The limit is the length of the text string. You can’t extract more characters than exist in the string.

What happens if I specify more characters than are in the text?

Excel will simply return the entire text string if the number specified exceeds its length.

Can the LEFT formula handle spaces and special characters?

Yes, the LEFT formula treats spaces and special characters just like any other character.


  1. Open Excel and select your worksheet.
  2. Click on the target cell.
  3. Enter =LEFT( into the cell.
  4. Input the cell reference.
  5. Specify the number of characters.
  6. Close the parenthesis and press enter.


The LEFT formula in Excel is an incredibly useful tool for anyone dealing with text data. Whether you’re looking to extract initials, prefixes, or any other specific part of a text string, mastering this formula will streamline your workflow. You can combine it with other functions to tackle more complex tasks, making it a versatile asset in your Excel toolkit.

Don’t forget to test your formulas on a small sample to ensure they perform as expected before applying them to larger datasets. This will save you time and potential headaches down the line.

Knowing how to use the LEFT formula in Excel can make your data manipulation tasks much easier and more efficient. So go ahead, give it a try, and see how it can simplify your work. Happy Excel-ing!

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