COLUMN Formula

Excel is a tool that offers an endless number of possibilities, and one of those possibilities is the COLUMN function. So, let’s dive right into the definition.


In Excel, the “COLUMN” function is a built-in function that you can use to get the column number of a reference. Simply put, it tells you which column your reference cell is in.


Why use the “COLUMN” function? Its primary purpose is to return the column number of a reference you specify. This might sound simple, but it’s incredibly useful when you’re dealing with large spreadsheets or complex formulas. It’s a great tool for dynamic referencing, helping to create formulas that adapt as your data changes.


The syntax of the “COLUMN” function is straightforward. It looks like this:



The “COLUMN” function has only one parameter: the reference. However, this parameter is optional.

The reference is the cell or range of cells for which you want the column number. If you omit the reference, the function uses the cell where you entered the formula.


What does the “COLUMN” function give back to you? It returns the first column number of the reference you provided. If you didn’t give a reference, it gives the column number of the cell where you entered the function.

Usage notes

One key point to remember is that the “COLUMN” function starts counting from 1, not 0. This means that column A is column 1, column B is column 2, and so on.


You can use the “COLUMN” function in all modern versions of Excel, including Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

Now that you understand the basics, let’s see how the “COLUMN” function works in practice.

Example #1

Imagine you’re in cell E1 and you type =COLUMN(). What happens? Because you didn’t specify a reference, Excel gives the column number of E1, which is 5.

Example #2

Let’s change it up a bit. This time, you’re in cell A1 and you type =COLUMN(E1). Even though you’re in column A, the function gives the column number of E1, which is 5.

Example #3

If you want to get the current column number irrespective of the cell, use =COLUMN(). This formula will return the column number of the cell where it is entered.

Example #4

And finally, you can use the “COLUMN” function inside other functions. For instance, =INDEX(A1:C3, 2, COLUMN()) would return the value from the second row of the current column in the range A1:C3.


Tips and tricks

The “COLUMN” function is an excellent tool for creating dynamic ranges. For instance, if you want a range that expands as you copy a formula to the right, you can use the “COLUMN” function to adjust the column reference dynamically.


However, the “COLUMN” function does have some limitations. It only works with references in the same worksheet. If you try to use a reference from a different worksheet or workbook, Excel will return a #VALUE! error.


Common errors and solutions

Speaking of errors, the most common one is the #VALUE! error, which usually means your reference is invalid. If you see this error, double-check your reference to ensure it’s in the same worksheet.

Another error you might encounter is the #REF! error. This occurs when the cell reference is not valid. For instance, if you delete a column that you’re referring to in a “COLUMN” function, you’ll see this error.

Best Practices

There are a few best practices when using the “COLUMN” function. First, always check your references to ensure they’re valid and in the same worksheet. Second, remember that Excel starts counting columns from 1, not 0. Third, use the “COLUMN” function in combination with other functions to create dynamic formulas and ranges.


List of Related functions

The “COLUMN” function is part of a group of Excel functions that deal with cell and range references. Other functions in this group include “ROW”, “ROWS”, “COLUMNS”, “ADDRESS”, “INDIRECT”, and “OFFSET”. All these functions can help you manipulate and navigate your data more effectively.

Frequently Used with the formulas

The “COLUMN” function is frequently used with other Excel functions like “INDEX“, “MATCH“, “VLOOKUP“, and “HLOOKUP” to create dynamic, flexible formulas. You can use it with “INDIRECT” and “OFFSET” also.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can I use the “COLUMN” function to return the column letter?

No, the “COLUMN” function only returns the column number.

Q. Does the “COLUMN” function work with array formulas?

Yes, the “COLUMN” function works well with array formulas.

Q. How do I avoid #REF! and #VALUE! errors when using the “COLUMN” function?

To avoid these errors, always make sure your references are valid and in the same worksheet. If you’re seeing these errors, double-check your references.

Q. Can the “COLUMN” function return negative numbers?

No, the “COLUMN” function always returns a positive integer. Remember, it starts counting from 1, not 0.


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