Note: Excel has a built-in data validation rules for dropdown lists. This page explains how to create a your own validation rule for lists when you don't want the dropdown behavior.

To allow only values from a list in a cell, you can use data validation with a custom formula based on the COUNTIF function.

In the example shown, the data validation applied to C5:C9 is:


Generic formula



Data validation rules are triggered when a user adds or changes a cell value.

In this case, the COUNTIF function is part of an expression that returns TRUE when a value exists in a specified range or list, and FALSE if not.

The COUNTIF function simply counts occurrences of the value in the list. Any count greater than zero will pass validation.

Note: Cell references in data validation formulas are relative to the upper left cell in the range selected when the validation rule is defined, in this case C5.

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Dave Bruns

Hi - I'm Dave Bruns, and I run Exceljet with my wife, Lisa. Our goal is to help you work faster in Excel. We create short videos, and clear examples of formulas, functions, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and charts.