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How To Add In Excel: Use + Or A Formula? (Examples)

A spreadsheet helps users to be able to perform calculations without doing this process manually by hand. As you come to use spreadsheets more often you’ll be impressed at the power available to you, but when you’re just getting started how can you perform a simple operation of adding a number?

There are two popular ways to add numbers together in Excel: using the plus sign + or using the SUM formula. Use the + sign where values being added are manually entered, and use SUM when referencing specific cell values.

Here are some examples demonstrating the use of each type:

When To Use + (Plus) Sign

In a spreadsheet the plus sign can be used in the same way you use a calculator. However, to get the spreadsheet to begin adding the numbers you must prompt the cell by entering an equal sign =. This triggers the spreadsheet to know that it will need to do a calculation with what you’re about to enter.

So, if I wanted to manually add two numbers, say 26 and 59 in an empty cell, I would type =26+59 and then hit the Return key on my keyboard:

A
185
=26+59
Adding 2 numbers

Just as you would similarly enter these numbers onto a calculator so too does the spreadsheet work with this type of operation.

You can add more than just 2 numbers to the operation if desired, as shown:

A
155
=1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10
Adding 10 numbers

Using the plus sign is an easy and straightforward way of being able to add two numbers in a spreadsheet, and is great when the numbers being added are manually typed.

However, there is one powerful feature to using the plus sign over the SUM function, and this is where you want to apply the addition to individual cells across a range.

Adding Values To Ranges

One powerful feature of the plus sign over the SUM formula is that the + sign can allow you to add each individual cell in a range to either another range or to a static value.

Take the following example, where each cell contains a value:

ABC
1123
2101
=A1:C1+100
102
103
Add 100 to the range of each value from A1:C1

As you can see, just one formula was needed in cell A2 to apply the addition of 100 to each of the cells in the range A1:C1.

You can further apply this same logic to the addition of multiple ranges, like so:

ABC
1123
2100200300
3101
=A1:C1+A2:C2
202
303
Adding multiple ranges together

As demonstrated above this feature is very handy when the individual addition of ranges is needed, without having to copy and paste the same formula across multiple times!

How To Show + Sign In Excel

There are times when using the + sign can cause some confusion, especially when you want to show a positive number, or if you are entering text and the text begins with the + sign.

To display the plus sign for positive numbers you need to modify the way the cell is formatted, and rather than detail more of that information here, go to our other article on how to properly display positive numbers with a plus sign, and how to have Excel behave properly with text that starts with the plus sign.

However, the power of a spreadsheet is being able to use formulas and references to cells containing values you want to add, and this is why the most popular form of adding numbers in Excel is to use the SUM formula.

When To Use SUM Formula

If the operation to perform is to simply add numbers, you can use the SUM function in the same way you manually used the + sign. For example, in the last table above I added the first numbers. This same operation can be performed in the same way using the SUM function, like so:

A
155
=SUM(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)
Adding 10 numbers using SUM formula

As you can see it does exactly the same job as the previous example did when using all those + signs! While this helps to show that the SUM formula does the same operation the real beauty of its application is seen when referencing cells.

The SUM formula can not only take static values, but also references, like so:

AB
11033
243
=SUM(A1,B1)
SUM function at work

Should the values in cells A1 or B1 change, then the result from the SUM formula in cell A2 will also dynamically change:

AB
12694
2120
=SUM(A1,B1)
SUM function dynamically calculates results when input cells change their value

Not only can the SUM function take references to individual cells, but it can also take multiple ranges, and other SUM formulas! Here’s an example of using the SUM formula to the range A1:B1

ABC
1531139
2103
=SUM(A1:C1)
SUM function on ranges

The SUM formula is very versatile in being able to perform simple arithmetic on the cells, numbers and ranges in your spreadsheet.

Summary

When adding numbers in Excel there are two popular ways to undertake this type of arithmetic: use the plus sign + or use the SUM formula. While the + sign has a very basic use case when applied like you would when using a calculator, it does have another powerful feature of being able to add value to individual ranges.

The other way to add numbers in Excel is to use the popular function SUM. This formula can not only add individual numbers but also can also sum ranges, individual cells and even other SUM functions too!

Choose the best option according to your type of use case.