How to Use LEFT Function in Excel: A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide

How to Use the LEFT Function in Excel

The LEFT function in Excel is a tool that lets you extract a certain number of characters from the beginning (left side) of a text string. For instance, if you have a list of product codes and you only need the first three characters, the LEFT function is your friend. We’ll walk you through how to use it step-by-step.

Step-by-Step Tutorial on Using the LEFT Function in Excel

In this guide, you’ll learn how to use the LEFT function to get specific parts of your text in Excel, saving you tons of time and making your work much more efficient.

Step 1: Open Your Excel Spreadsheet

Start by opening the Excel file where you want to use the LEFT function.

Having your data ready and organized makes it easier to apply functions effectively.

Step 2: Click on the Cell Where You Want the Result

Select the cell where you want the result to appear.

Choosing the correct cell ensures that your extracted text appears exactly where you need it.

Step 3: Type the Formula =LEFT(text, num_chars)

Enter the LEFT function formula in the selected cell. Replace "text" with the cell reference or text string, and "num_chars" with the number of characters you want to extract.

For example, if you want to extract the first three characters from the text in cell A1, your formula should look like this: =LEFT(A1, 3).

Step 4: Press Enter

Hit the Enter key to apply the formula.

Once you press Enter, Excel will display the extracted characters in the selected cell.

Step 5: Copy the Formula (if needed)

If you need to apply the same formula to multiple cells, you can copy and paste it.

Simply drag the fill handle (a small square at the bottom right corner of the cell) down or across to copy the formula, automatically adjusting the cell references.

After completing these steps, you will see the specified number of characters extracted from the left side of each text string in your selected cells.

Tips for Using the LEFT Function in Excel

  • Ensure the text is consistent: If the lengths of the text strings vary greatly, the results might not be what you expect.
  • Combine with other functions: Use LEFT with other functions like LEN or FIND for more complex text manipulations.
  • Watch out for spaces: Unnecessary spaces in your text can affect the results. Trim spaces if needed.
  • Use cell references: Instead of typing text directly into the formula, use cell references to make your formula more dynamic.
  • Practice makes perfect: The more you use the LEFT function, the more comfortable you’ll become with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the LEFT function do in Excel?

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

Can I use the LEFT function with numbers?

Yes, the LEFT function can be used with numbers, as Excel treats numbers within text strings as characters.

What happens if I put a negative number in the num_chars argument?

Excel will return an error because num_chars must be a positive number.

Can I combine the LEFT function with other functions?

Absolutely! You can combine it with functions like CONCATENATE, LEN, FIND, and others for more complex tasks.

What if I only want to extract one character?

Specify 1 in the num_chars argument, like so: =LEFT(A1, 1).

Summary of Steps

  1. Open your Excel Spreadsheet.
  2. Click on the cell where you want the result.
  3. Type the formula =LEFT(text, num_chars).
  4. Press Enter.
  5. Copy the formula (if needed).


The LEFT function in Excel is a versatile tool that helps you manipulate text strings with ease. Whether you’re handling product codes, names, or any other type of data, knowing how to use this function can save you a lot of time and effort. With our step-by-step guide, you should now feel confident in extracting characters from the left side of any text string.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you play around with the LEFT function, the more comfortable you’ll become. Don’t hesitate to explore combining it with other functions for even more powerful text manipulations. If you found this guide helpful, consider diving deeper into Excel’s rich array of functions to further streamline your data management tasks.

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