How To Get the Absolute Value in Excel Formulas

The absolute value of a number refers to its distance from zero on the number line, without considering whether the number is positive or negative. For example, both -5 and 5 have an absolute value of 5.

In Excel, you can easily get the absolute value of numbers using the ABS function. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use the ABS function along with some examples of how it can be useful.

What is the ABS Function in Excel?

The ABS function in Excel returns the absolute value of the number provided as its argument. Its syntax is:

=ABS(number)

Where number is the cell reference or number for which you want the absolute value.

For example, =ABS(-4) would return 4. And =ABS(5) would return 5.

The ABS function only has one argument – the number itself. It removes any negative sign, leaving just the number’s distance from zero.

When to Use the ABS Function

Here are some common uses of the ABS function in Excel:

1. Converting Negative Numbers to Positive

If you have some negative values in your data but want to treat them as positive for your calculations, wrap them in the ABS function.

For example, you may want to find the average of absolute deviations from a target value, ignoring whether they are above or below the target.

2. Calculating Difference or Distance Between Values

To find the distance between two values, use the ABS function on their difference.

For example, =ABS(A1-B1) would return the absolute difference between the values in cells A1 and B1.

This is useful for statistical analysis to remove the impact of directionality.

3. Formatting Conditional Formatting Rules

You can use the ABS function within conditional formatting rules to highlight values based on their absolute deviation from a threshold.

For example, to highlight values more than 3 units from a target of 5, use:

=ABS(A1-5)>3

Examples of Using ABS in Excel

Here are some examples of how you can use the ABS function in Excel:

1. Convert a Column of Numbers to Absolute Values

If you have a mixture of positive and negative numbers in a column and want to treat them all as positive, you can wrap the column reference in ABS.

For example, if your numbers are in Column A, enter this formula in an adjacent cell and copy it down:

=ABS(A1)
=ABS(A2) 
etc.

This will return all the original values but without the negative sign.

2. Find Absolute Difference Between Values

To find the absolute difference between two values, subtract one from the other and wrap in ABS.

For example, if you have values in A1 and B1, use this formula:

=ABS(A1-B1) 

This will return the distance between A1 and B1, ignoring which is larger.

3. Calculate Average Absolute Deviation

You can combine ABS with AVERAGE to find the average absolute deviation from a target number.

For example, if your data is in A1:A10 and your target is 5, use this formula:

=AVERAGE(ABS(A1:A10-5))

This calculates the deviation of each data point from 5, takes the absolute value to remove negative signs, and averages the results.

4. Create Absolute Value Chart Axes

To create a chart where both axes start from 0 and ignore negative values, use ABS on the cell references.

For example, if your y-axis data is in A1:A10, set the axis values to:

=ABS(A1):ABS(A10)

Tips for Using the ABS Function

Here are some additional pointers when using the ABS function in Excel:

  • Check for errors using IFERROR – the ABS function will return errors if given a text or logical value
  • You can nest ABS within other functions like SUM, MAX, MIN, AVERAGE, etc.
  • Use ABS with conditional formatting for quick visual analysis
  • Combine with rounding functions like ROUND, TRUNC, or INT if needed

Conclusion

The ABS function is a simple yet powerful tool for converting negative numbers to positive or finding absolute differences and deviations.

Knowing how and when to use ABS allows you to expand your analysis capabilities and create more flexible calculations.

So next time you want to ignore the sign of a number in Excel, turn to the trusty ABS function! It takes just one quick formula to unlock simpler and better analysis.