Welcome to the tutorial on the Excel formula – “COLUMNS”. By the end of this, you’ll be a pro at using this function.


The “COLUMNS” function is an inbuilt Excel formula that helps you get the total number of columns in a given reference or range.


What’s the point of using the “COLUMNS” function? The primary reason is to count the total number of columns in a specified range. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with large data sets, allowing you to quickly identify the size of your data without manual counting.


The syntax of the “COLUMNS” function is quite simple. It goes like this:



The “COLUMNS” function has just one parameter – the array. The array here refers to the range of cells that you want to count the columns for.


The “COLUMNS” function returns the total count of columns present in the array or range you specified.

Usage notes

Remember, when using the “COLUMNS” function, Excel counts every column, regardless of whether they contain data or not.


You’ll be happy to know that the “COLUMNS” function is available in all modern versions of Excel, including Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

Now, let’s take a look at some practical examples of the “COLUMNS” function in action.

Example #1

Suppose you have data in range A1:C3 and you want to know how many columns this range contains. Simply use the formula =COLUMNS(A1:C3). The function will return 3 as there are three columns in the range – A, B, and C.

Example #2

What if you have data only in column A and B from rows 1 to 10 and you use =COLUMNS(A1:B10). The function will again return 2 because, irrespective of the number of rows, there are only two columns – A and B.


Example #3

You can use the “COLUMNS” function within other functions. For example, =SUM(A1:INDEX(A1:C3, 2, COLUMNS(A1:C3))) would sum the values from the first two columns in the range A1:C3.


Example #4

If you use the “COLUMNS” function without a reference like =COLUMNS(), Excel will return an error because the function needs at least one range or array reference to operate.

Tips and tricks

A great trick with the “COLUMNS” function is to use it for creating dynamic ranges in other formulas, like INDEX or VLOOKUP.



The “COLUMNS” function will not work correctly with 3D references or references to other sheets or workbooks. It can only handle references in the same worksheet.

Common errors and solutions

The most common error with the “COLUMNS” function is the #VALUE! error. This usually happens when you forget to provide a range or array reference. Always make sure to include a valid reference.

Best Practices

When using the “COLUMNS” function, remember to always provide a valid range or array reference. It’s also a good idea to combine the “COLUMNS” function with other functions to create dynamic ranges and formulas.

List of Related functions

The COLUMNS function is part of a group of Excel functions that deal with cell and range references. Other functions in this group include COLUMN, ROW, ROWS, ADDRESS, INDIRECT, and OFFSET. These functions, in conjunction with each other, allow for more flexibility and control when working with data in Excel.


Frequently Used with the formulas

The COLUMNS function is often used with other Excel functions like INDEX, MATCH, VLOOKUP, and HLOOKUP to create dynamic, flexible formulas. It’s also commonly used with INDIRECT and OFFSET for advanced cell and range manipulation.

Frequently Asked Questions


Q. I want to count only the columns that have data in them. Can I do this using the “COLUMNS” function?

Sadly, no. The “COLUMNS” function counts all the columns in a given range, whether they’re filled with data or totally empty.

Q. Can I use the “COLUMNS” function with 3D references or references to other sheets or workbooks?

Nope, you can’t do that. The “COLUMNS” function sticks to its own worksheet. It gets confused if you try to use it with a 3D reference or a reference from another sheet or workbook.

Q. What will happen if I use the “COLUMNS” function and forget to include any reference?

Well, Excel won’t be too happy about that. It’ll give you an error. So, always remember to include a reference when using the “COLUMNS” function.

Q. I keep getting errors when using the “COLUMNS” function. How can I stop this from happening?

Errors usually mean something is off with your references. Make sure they’re all in the same worksheet and they’re valid. If you’re still seeing errors, give your references another checks to find the problem.

Q. Can the “COLUMNS” function ever give me a negative number?

No, it can’t. The “COLUMNS” function always gives you a positive integer. After all, you can’t have a negative number of columns, right?


Visit our YouTube channel to learn step-by-step video tutorials.