How to Subtract Values in Excel Spreadsheets Using Formulas

As an experienced Excel user, I often get asked about performing calculations like subtraction in Excel. Subtraction is one of the most common arithmetic operations people need to do in Excel. Whether you’re analyzing financial data, managing inventory, or doing scientific calculations, learning how to accurately subtract values in Excel is an important skill.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll teach you several methods for subtracting values in Excel using formulas. We’ll cover basic subtraction using the minus sign, subtracting cell references, subtracting columns, ranges and matrices, percentages and dates, as well as more advanced conditional subtraction and criteria-based subtraction.

Basic Subtraction Using the Minus Sign

The simplest way to subtract two values in Excel is to use the minus sign (-). Here’s the basic structure:


For example, to subtract 5 from 10, you would use:


The result is 5.

This method works for subtracting literal values, cell references, ranges, and formulas. Always start your formula with an equals sign (=).

Subtracting Cell References

Instead of literal values, you can subtract cell references in Excel. This allows you to change cell values without rewriting formulas.

To subtract cell B2 from cell A2, use:


You don’t need to manually type cell references. Simply click or select the cells you want to include to add the references automatically.

Subtracting Columns, Ranges and Matrices

To subtract larger data sets like columns, ranges or matrices, use the SUM function.

For example, to subtract the range A2:A10 from A1:


This subtracts the total value of A2:A10 from A1.

You can also subtract entire columns, or matrices using the same method.

Subtracting Percentages

To subtract a percentage from a number in Excel use:


Where A1 is the original number and B1 is the percentage as a decimal.

For example, to subtract a 10% discount from 100:


The result is 90.

Subtracting Dates and Times

To find the difference between two dates or times, simply subtract the start date/time from the end date/time.

For example:


Where A2 is the later date and B2 is the earlier date. The result will display as the number of days between the two dates.

You can also subtract times, which will show the difference in hours, minutes and seconds.

Conditional Subtraction Based on Criteria

Using Excel’s IF function allows you to subtract values only when certain criteria are met.

Here is a typical example:


This checks if B5 is greater than C5. If true, it subtracts B5 from D5. If false, it subtracts C5 from D5.

You can customize the criteria and resulting calculations based on your specific needs.

Subtract Based on Multiple Criteria

To base your subtraction on multiple criteria, you can nest IF functions:


This checks two criteria, with the second IF function only executing if the first criteria fails.

For more complex criteria, use Excel’s AND/OR functions to build your conditional logic.

Tips for Subtracting in Excel

Here are some additional tips for effectively subtracting values in Excel:

  • Use absolute ($) and relative cell references to copy formulas down columns
  • Name cells/ranges to make formulas more readable
  • Break down complex formulas into smaller steps on helper cells/columns
  • Use conditional formatting to visualize subtracted values greater than/less than thresholds
  • Double check formulas and cell references to avoid #VALUE, #REF, #NAME and other errors

Real-World Examples

Here are some common real-world examples where you’d need to use Excel subtraction:

  • Sales analysis – Subtract returns from gross sales to calculate net revenue
  • Budgeting – Subtract actual spending from allocated amounts to track under/over
  • Date calculations – Subtract start date from end date to get duration
  • Inventory management – Subtract units sold from total stock to get updated inventory count

The possibilities are endless! Mastering subtraction formulas unlocks Excel’s potential for all kinds of data calculations and analysis.


Whether you need to find differences between financial figures, inventory counts, dates, times or any other data – Excel has you covered. With the minus sign, SUM function and cell references you can accurately subtract values across your worksheets. For more advanced needs, use conditional logic, criteria and absolute references to calculate exactly what you need.

I hope this comprehensive overview gives you the knowledge to efficiently perform subtraction calculations in Excel. Let me know if you have any other questions!