How to Use Superscript and Subscript in Excel

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Applying superscript and subscript format in Excel isn’t straightforward unlike in Microsoft Word.

It’s understandable. Microsoft Word is a text processor while Excel is a spreadsheet software, which mostly deals with data and numbers.

However, there are ways you can apply these formats in Excel.

In this article, you’ll learn how to easily apply both superscript and subscript in Excel.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s get started! 😊

What are superscript and subscript?

By definition, superscript or subscript is a character, which can be a number, letter, or symbol, placed above or below the type line

Superscripts appear above the normal line of type. They’re commonly used to symbolize exponents, footnotes, ordinal indicators, and trademarks.

Subscripts are placed below the baseline. They’re usually used in chemistry to illustrate the molecular structure of chemical compounds such as water (H20).

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Before you start:

Throughout this guide, you need a data set to practice.

I’ve included one for you (for free).

Download it right below!

Download the FREE Exercise File

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Text vs Numbers

Normally, you can apply Excel formatting to any data type.

However, applying either superscript or subscript in Excel is different.

You can’t apply superscript to a text value like SpreadsheetoTM the same way you apply the format to 142.

Below, we’ll show you the different ways of applying superscript and subscript on a text value and number value.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Apply superscript or subscript to texts

This method only works for text strings.

Because you’re only applying either format to a character(s) in a cell, you have to be careful as not to apply superscript or subscript to the entire cell.

That means you have to select the text within the cell you’d like to format.

To do so, you can either double-click a cell or press ‘F2’ on your keyboard to enter cell edit mode and select the text with your mouse.

For this example, let’s turn ‘SpreadsheetoTM’ into ‘SpreadsheetoTM.

selecting text within cell to superscript

Open the ‘Format Cells’ dialogue box by right-clicking the highlighted text or character and select ‘Format Cells…’ from the dropdown list.

Alternately, you can also press ‘Ctrl’ + ‘1’ on your keyboard to bring out the dialogue box.

format cells dropdown option

To apply either superscript or subscript, simply check the appropriate box under ‘Effects’ and press ‘OK’.

In our example, let’s check ‘Superscript’.

After you click ‘OK’, you’ll immediately see the changes.

Superscript and Subscript Shortcut Keys

It’s possible to do the steps described above using shortcut keys.

To apply a superscript using shortcut keys, simply press the following key combinations:

  • ‘Ctrl’ + ‘1’
  • ‘Alt’ + ‘E’
  • ‘Enter’
superscript shortcut keys

To apply a subscript using shortcut keys, simply press the following key combinations:

  • ‘Ctrl’ + ‘1’
  • ‘Alt’ + ‘B’
  • ‘Enter’
subscript shortcut keys

Note that the combination of keys is not the shortcut for superscript/subscript per se. They’re merely shortcuts to the steps described earlier in this section.

Add to ‘Quick Access Toolbar’

If you don’t like going through the steps using the ‘Format Cells’ dialogue box, you can directly pin both superscript and subscript in the ‘Quick Access Toolbar’.

By default, your ‘Quick Access Toolbar’ contains ‘Save’, ‘Undo’, and ‘Redo’. They’re found on the upper left side of your Excel window.

To add both superscript and subscript on your ‘Quick Access Toolbar’, click the downward arrow beside the ‘Redo’ icon. Then, select ‘More Commands’ from the dropdown list.

On this window, find the superscript and subscript icons. Click the ‘Add>>’ box and hit ‘OK’.

Now, you’ll be able to quickly use both formats from the ‘Quick Access Toolbar’.

Here’s a cool thing:

Commands in the ‘Quick Access Toolbar’ are assigned shortcut keys. 

Unlike the keys we showed you earlier, these keys are straight to the point.

All shortcut keys in the ‘Quick Access Toolbar’ start with ‘Alt’. To know the next key, simple press or hold ‘Alt’ and numbers will show up above the icon.

  • Subscript: ‘Alt’ + ‘4’
  • Superscript: ‘Alt’ + ‘5’
shortcut keys on superscript and subscript on quick access toolbar

To remove superscript and subscript from the ‘Quick Access Toolbar’, follow the same steps but this time, use ‘<<Remove’.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Add to Excel Ribbon

It’s also possible to add both superscript and subscript to your Excel Ribbon.

Right-click anywhere on the Ribbon and click ‘Customize the Ribbon…’ from the dropdown list.

customize the ribbon dropdown option

Before you can add additional commands and formats on the Ribbon, you would have to create a new group first since you can’t add new commands to existing groups.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

To make this easier, let’s use the default tab, ‘Home’.

To create a new group within the ‘Home’ tab, click the ‘New Group’ box on the lower left side of the window. 

If you want to ‘Rename’ the group, click ‘Rename’ beside ‘New Group’.

creating new group on the ribbon

To add both formats, select them and click ‘Add>>’. Then, click ‘OK’.

You can now apply the formats straight from your Excel Ribbon.

superscript and subscript on the ribbon

To remove superscript and subscript from the Ribbon, reverse the steps you took i.e. use ‘<<Remove’.

Apply superscript or subscript to numbers

Applying superscript or subscript to a number value is a bit tricky.

If you like to apply either format on a number value inside a string with at least 1 letter, you can apply the steps defined in the earlier sections i.e. xy12.

But if you need to apply either format to a string with no letter on it, a pure numerical string, follow the steps below.

The easiest way to enter a value with a subscript or superscript is through ‘Insert Equation’.

The result of this method is your value in a text box. What you entered here isn’t situated on a cell.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s say you’d like to enter into Excel the value “142(that’s 14 raised to the power of 2).

First, go to the ‘Insert’ tab.

insert tab on microsoft excel 2019 tab list

Click the ‘Equation’ icon from the ‘Symbols’ group.

Then, click ‘Script’ from the ‘Structures’ group and select either superscript or subscript.

subscripts and superscripts on script

Fill out the boxes with the appropriate numbers.

Excel superscript character codes

If you want to add superscript numbers in a cell, you can do so as long as they’re only 1, 2, or 3.

Two things to remember:

  • If you’re planning to use this method, make sure you’re using Calibri or Arial fonts. Other fonts may need a different key combination.
  • Although the result is still a number, technically, the result is a numeric string. That means you can’t use the results for any calculations.

Superscript in Excel formula

You can also use the ‘CHAR’ function in Excel to write superscript numbers. 

However, there are limitations similar to the one above:

  • Only apply as long as the superscripts are 1, 2, and 3
  • The result becomes a number string which you can’t use for calculations

The formula for the superscript numbers are similar to the codes above:

  • Formula1: ‘=CHAR(185)’
  • Formula2: ‘=CHAR(178)’
  • Formula3: ‘=CHAR(179)’

This method is useful whenever you need to separate or preserve the base or original numbers.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

To combine the superscript and the original number, you can use the ‘CONCATENATE’ function in Excel.

concatenating base number and superscript

Ultimate Solution: Copy & Paste

It’s good to know the gritty details of how to apply superscript and subscript.

But sometimes, all we need is a quick, one-time use. If this is the case, simply copy-pasting will do the trick. 😊

Just copy the ones you need straight to Excel:

  • Superscript: ⁺ ⁻ ⁼ ⁽ ⁾ ¹ ² ³ ⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸ ⁹ ⁰
  • Subscript: ₊ ₋ ₌ ₍ ₎  ₁ ₂ ₃ ₄ ₅ ₆ ₇ ₈ ₉ ₀

Fast and easy, right? 👍

Wrapping things up…

As of today, there’s no clear explanation from the Microsoft team why applying superscript and subscript to a number or text requires different steps.

Fortunately, doing them isn’t really that hard. Plus, if you’re having a difficult time and all you need to superscript or subscript is a number, just copy and paste the preformatted characters from the previous section of this article.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto