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The order of operations

When evaluating a formula, Excel follows a standard math protocol. First any expressions in parentheses are evaluated. Next Excel will solve for any exponents. After exponents, Excel will perform multiplication and division. Finally, Excel will solve for addition and subtraction.

This order of operations can be expressed by the mnemomic phrase "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally", which stands for:

  • Parentheses
  • Exponents
  • Multiplication and Division
  • Addition and Subtraction

Let's take a look.

Our first example is "3 plus 4 divided by 2". Without any parentheses, Excel will perform division first, then addition. So, 4 divided by 2 = 2, plus 3. Which equals 5.

If we want Excel to add 3 and 4 together first, we need to add parentheses around the 3 and 4.

Now, Excel will evaluate the formula as 3 + 4 = 7, divided by 2 = 3.5.

Our next example is "5 minus 3 squared". Without parentheses, Excel will evaluate this as 5, minus 3 squared - solving the exponent first. So, 5 minus 9 = -4.

If we want Excel to carry out the subtraction first, we need to use parentheses around the 5 and 3.

Now Excel will evaluate the formula as 5 minus 3 = 2, squared = 4.

The order of operations works exactly the same with cell references. We can re-write our first example as =C9+D6/F7. Since these cells contain the same values we used in the first example, we get the same result, 5.

When we add parentheses as we did in the second example, to force Excel to evaluate addition before division, we have =(C9+D6)/F7, which gives us 3.5.

Use parentheses any time you want to make sure that Excel performs one operation before another.

Course 
Author 
Dave Bruns