[Excel Shortcut] Use the Subtract Formula (Windows & Mac)

Written by Kasper Langmann

Excel, a powerful tool from Microsoft, is widely used for data analysis, financial modeling, and everyday calculations. One of the most common operations in Excel is subtraction, which can be performed using a simple formula. This article will guide you through the process of using the subtract formula in Excel on both Windows and Mac operating systems.

Understanding Excel Subtraction

Before we delve into the specifics of the subtract formula, it’s essential to understand how Excel handles subtraction. Unlike addition, which has a dedicated function (SUM), Excel does not have a SUBTRACT function. Instead, subtraction in Excel is performed using the minus (-) operator.

The basic formula for subtraction in Excel is: =number1 - number2. Here, ‘number1’ and ‘number2’ are the values you want to subtract. ‘Number1’ is the minuend (the number from which another number is to be subtracted), and ‘number2’ is the subtrahend (the number to be subtracted).

How to Use the Subtract Formula in Excel

Subtracting Two Numbers

Subtracting two numbers in Excel is straightforward. You simply type the numbers you want to subtract into the formula. For example, if you want to subtract 5 from 10, you would type: =10 - 5. After pressing Enter, Excel will calculate the result and display it in the cell where you entered the formula.

This method works well for simple calculations, but it’s not practical for large datasets. In such cases, you would typically enter the numbers in separate cells and then use cell references in the formula.

Subtracting Cell References

Subtracting cell references is similar to subtracting numbers, but instead of typing the numbers directly into the formula, you type the cell references. For example, if you have the number 10 in cell A1 and the number 5 in cell B1, you would type: =A1 - B1.

Using cell references in your formulas has several advantages. It makes your formulas dynamic, meaning they will automatically update if the values in the referenced cells change. It also makes your formulas easier to read and understand, especially when working with large datasets.

Subtracting Multiple Numbers

Subtracting more than two numbers in Excel is just as easy. You simply extend the formula with additional minus operators and numbers or cell references. For example, to subtract 5, 3, and 2 from 10, you would type: =10 - 5 - 3 - 2.

Remember, subtraction is performed from left to right. This means that Excel first subtracts 5 from 10, then subtracts 3 from the result, and finally subtracts 2 from that result. The order of operations can be important in some calculations, so keep this in mind when creating your formulas.

Subtracting Dates and Times

Excel also allows you to subtract dates and times, which can be useful for calculating durations. To subtract two dates or times, you simply enter them in separate cells and then subtract one cell reference from the other.

For example, if you have a start date in cell A1 and an end date in cell B1, you could calculate the duration by typing: =B1 - A1. Excel will display the result in days. If you want the result in months or years, you can use the DATEDIF function.

Subtracting times works in a similar way. However, Excel will display the result in decimal hours by default. If you want the result in hours, minutes, and seconds, you can apply a custom time format to the cell.

Common Errors When Subtracting in Excel

While subtracting in Excel is generally straightforward, there are a few common errors that you might encounter. One of these is the #VALUE! error, which occurs when one or more of the values you’re trying to subtract are non-numeric. To fix this error, you need to ensure that all values in your formula are numbers.

Another common error is the #REF! error, which occurs when a cell reference in your formula is invalid. This can happen if you delete a cell that is referenced in a formula, or if you copy a formula that contains relative cell references to a different location. To fix this error, you need to correct or remove the invalid cell reference.


Subtracting in Excel is a fundamental skill that you’ll use frequently, whether you’re performing simple calculations or analyzing complex data. By understanding how to use the subtract formula effectively, you can save time and avoid common errors. Remember to use cell references in your formulas to make them dynamic and easier to read, and be aware of the order of operations when subtracting multiple numbers.

With practice, you’ll find that subtraction in Excel becomes second nature. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different formulas and techniques. The more you use Excel, the more proficient you’ll become.