# What Does \$A\$1 Mean In Excel Or Google Sheets?

What does ``` \$A\$1 ``` mean in a spreadsheet formula in Excel or Google Sheets?

The syntax ``` \$A\$1 ``` is simply an absolute reference to cell ``` A1 ``` .

The reason why there are dollar signs prefixed in front of the column and row labels is to prevent the cell from changing its reference as the original cell is copied to another cell.

If a cell containing a reference to ``` A1 ``` is not needed to be copied, or if the reference to cell ``` A1 ``` is not needed to be fixed when copied elsewhere, then the dollar signs are not required.

## Fixing Reference To Cell ``` A1 ```

The primary reason why you would want to make a cell reference absolute is that the formula needs the value contained in cell ``` A1 ``` and if the cell with the formula containing the reference to cell ``` A1 ``` is either copied or moved this reference will not change.

Here’s an example demonstrating what would happen if I copied the cells with formulas in column ``` B ``` across to column ``` C ``` :

As you can see the values in column ``` C ``` for the first row contain the same formula (though they have different values due to the changing value of the ``` COLUMN() ``` formula). Whereas the value in the second row have different values when comparing cell ``` C1 ``` to ``` C2 ``` because cell ``` C2 ``` does not have an absolute reference to cell ``` A1 ``` , instead it changes across with the direction of the copy and moves the column reference across to cell ``` B 1 ``` .

If cell ``` B1 ``` were copied down to cell ``` B3 ``` what would happen to the formulas cell reference to ``` A1 ``` ? This would change the row reference from ``` A1 ``` to ``` A 2 ``` as shown below:

As the reference in the formula in ``` B3 ``` has changed to ``` A2 ``` which is an empty cell this equates to the value of 0 and the ``` COLUMN() ``` formula is 2, therefore ``` 0 + 2 = 2 ``` .

Whereas if we copied cell ``` B1 ``` down to cell ``` B4 ``` this would be the result of that operation:

As you can see from the above formula that was copied from cell ``` B1 ``` to ``` B4 ``` the result is the same (as the copied cell is in the same column). While the formula ``` COLUMN() ``` will change depending upon where you copy it to the absolute reference ``` \$A\$1 ``` stays the same.

## Absolute Reference Keyboard Shortcut

To make it easier to enter an absolute reference for a cell in your Google Sheets you can use the shortcut key ``` F4 ``` to have the spreadsheet automatically insert the necessary dollar signs for the active range your cursor is active on or have just typed in your formula.

For example, if you have just started typing the following formula and your cursor is at the end of the cell reference ``` A1 ``` as shown below:

``=A1│``

In Google Sheets you can then hit the ``` F4 ``` function key on your keyboard and this will change the formula to the following:

``=\$A\$1│``

If you continue tapping the ``` F4 ``` key on your keyboard it will cycle through all the different types of absolute references available for the active range in your formula, therefore, next will be:

``=A\$1│``

This absolute reference keeps the row label the same, and if the ``` F4 ``` key is tapped again then the absolute reference changes to:

``=\$A1│``

This absolute reference keeps the column label the same, and if the ``` F4 ``` key is tapped again the user is returned back to their original cell reference:

``=A1│``

Therefore, if you do accidentally hit the ``` F4 ``` key on your keyboard and there is no need to make a cell reference absolute, you can continue tapping the ``` F4 ``` key to cycle back to your original reference without having to delete the dollar signs from your cell reference manually.

The order of the ``` F4 ``` keypress is as follows:

1. Both row and column absolute
2. Just row absolute
3. Just column absolute
4. No absolutes

This means if your cell already contains or is absolute that pressing the ``` F4 ``` key will step to the next sequence.

For example, if I have a cell reference that is already ``` \$A1 ``` (column absolute only) and I tap the ``` F4 ``` key, the cell reference will change to the next sequence, being no absolutes, and will show ``` A1 ``` .

Does the ``` F4 ``` keyboard short cut also work with ranges?

Yes, the same ``` F4 ``` keypress also works if the last cell reference is part of a range.

For example, if you’ve just entered a formula that requires a range (like the ``` SUM ``` function) and the active cursor is at the end (or even anywhere in the range notation):

``=SUM(A1:A2│``

Hitting the ``` F4 ``` key on your keyboard will produce the same type of absolute references, but will apply the absolute references to the entire range , like so:

``=SUM(\$A\$1:\$A\$2│``

The first ``` F4 ``` keypress will produce an absolute range, the second ``` F4 ``` keypress will produce an absolute reference on the row labels, like so:

``=SUM(A\$1:A\$2│``

And the third ``` F4 ``` keypress will produce an absolute reference on the column labels, like so:

``=SUM(\$A1:\$A2│``

And finally the fourth ``` F4 ``` keypress will return the absolute references back to their original form:

``=SUM(A1:A2│``

Can you make just one cell reference in a range absolute using the shortcut key method?

No, you cannot. If you need to make an individual cell in a range absolute, you would need to insert the ``` \$ ``` signs yourself manually.

Here’s what an absolute range reference would look like where only one part of the range reference is absolute:

``=SUM(\$A\$1:A2│``

This reference above would mean the ``` SUM ``` range is increasing in size as the formula is copied either across or down.

However, if you do accidentally tap the ``` F4 ``` key, it will begin to make changes to the absolute references of the range. To return an absolute range reference back to what it was initially, just keep tapping the ``` F4 ``` key ( 4 times should do it ), and you will have your formula back as it was prior to the absolute references, here’s what the cycles looked like at each ``` F4 ``` keypress from the initial formula above:

1. =SUM(A\$1:\$A\$2│
2. =SUM(\$A1:A\$2│
3. ``` =SUM(A1:\$A2│ ```
4. ``` =SUM(\$A\$1:A2│ ```

As you can see from the above changes made by Google Sheets at each ``` F4 ``` keypress, the range is returned to its original form after 4 keypresses.

## How To Reference ``` \$A\$1 ``` Without Dollar Signs?

If using the absolute reference syntax for a cell, aka the dollar signs, makes your formula difficult to understand there are two other alternatives available: use named ranges, or use ``` INDIRECT ``` formula.

### What Are Named Ranges?

Every cell in a spreadsheet has a reference and this is commonly seen with alphabetic characters followed by numeric characters. For example, ``` AA149 ``` references the cell found at the intersection of cells in column ``` AA ``` and cells in row ``` 149 ``` .

However, cell references can be difficult to manage when you’ve got lots of them in a formula.

I prefer using named ranges whenever I have a formula containing more than a couple of absolute references. I find I can easily get things messed up when there are too many absolute references in one formula.

Therefore, instead of using absolute references you can change these cells (or ranges) to a named range .

To create a named range simply select the cell (or cells) and in the white area that contains the reference of the cell (or range) enter a name you would like to call it.

A type of nomenclature that I have adopted when naming cells that are referenced throughout the spreadsheet is to prefix the name of the cell (or range) with an abbreviation of the sheet. For example, if I have a Settings sheet and it has individual cells that reference specific details I would click on each cell and start the name of the range as ``` setStartYear ``` – if the cell was to hold the starting year.

I’ve found when you can adopt a naming system that makes sense for you it can be easy in knowing where to go to check the value of that cell AND it prevents name clashes.

Whatever strategy you adopt be mindful of naming clashes where two named ranges have the same name on different sheets. Some spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets, will allow you to have the same name, but the named range would need to be prefixed with the name of the sheet.

For example, ``` Settings!StartYear ``` if the named range ``` StartYear ``` was used on another sheet.

To me it kind of defeats the purpose of a named range if you have to prefix it with the reference of the sheet name, however, I’m doing this anyway – just in an abbreviated way!

### Use ``` INDIRECT ``` Formula

If naming ranges doesn’t meet your taste then another option to consider would be the ``` INDIRECT ``` formula.

The ``` INDIRECT ``` formula takes two parameters: a cell reference (as a string), and a boolean value if the reference is in ``` A1 ``` notation (default for this parameter is ``` TRUE ``` if nothing is entered).

Therefore, instead of using ``` \$A\$1 ``` you could use ``` INDIRECT("A1") ``` .

As the reference contained within the formula is static (i.e. a string value pointing to a cell reference) it will not change when this formula is copied or moved.

The ``` INDIRECT ``` formula can also take a named range as its first parameter, i.e. using the named range ``` setStartYear ``` this would look like this with the ``` INDIRECT ``` formula: ``` INDIRECT("setStartYear") ``` .

At least if you’re unsure of which alternative to use you could use both!

## Summary

The absolute reference ``` \$A\$1 ``` points to cell ``` A1 ``` in its formula. The dollar signs wrapped inside the reference merely fix the reference so that should the formula move or be copied the reference to ``` A1 ``` will not change.

If you find there are just too many dollar symbols in your formula, two alternative ways of using the absolute reference are to use named ranges or the ``` INDIRECT ``` function.

An easy way of making a cell reference absolute is to use the keyboard shortcut ``` F4 ``` , which when tapped multiple times will cycle through all the different forms of absolute cell references available for the range. If the cell does not have any absolute references the first ``` F4 ``` keypress will make both the row and column labels fixed, second ``` F4 ``` keypress will make the row label fixed (only), the third ``` F4 ``` keypress will make the column label fixed (only) and the fourth ``` F4 ``` keypress will return the cell back to it’s original form.

Overall, the absolute cell reference is used to fix or make constant a cell reference in a formula.

Ryan Sheehy
Ryan has been dabbling in code since the late '90s when he cut his teeth exploring VBA in Excel. Having his eyes opened with the potential of automating repetitive tasks, he expanded to Python and then moved over to scripting languages such as HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP.