What is the formula to add in Excel?
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
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:
A  B  

1  10  33 
2 
43
=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:
A  B  

1  26  94 
2 
120
=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
A  B  C  

1  53  11  39 
2 
103
=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.