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 | |
---|---|

1 | 85`=26+59` |

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 | |
---|---|

1 | 55`=1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10` |

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:

A | B | C | |
---|---|---|---|

1 | 1 | 2 | 3 |

2 | 101`=A1:C1+100` | 102 | 103 |

`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:

A | B | C | |
---|---|---|---|

1 | 1 | 2 | 3 |

2 | 100 | 200 | 300 |

3 | 101`=A1:C1+A2:C2` | 202 | 303 |

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 | |
---|---|

1 | 55`=SUM(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)` |

`SUM`

formulaAs 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:

A | B | |
---|---|---|

1 | 10 | 33 |

2 | 43`=SUM(A1,B1)` |

`SUM`

function at workShould the values in cells `A1`

or `B1`

change, then the result from the `SUM`

formula in cell `A2`

will also dynamically change:

A | B | |
---|---|---|

1 | 26 | 94 |

2 | 120`=SUM(A1,B1)` |

`SUM`

function dynamically calculates results when input cells change their valueNot 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`

A | B | C | |
---|---|---|---|

1 | 53 | 11 | 39 |

2 | 103`=SUM(A1:C1)` |

`SUM`

function on rangesThe `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.