When to use Multi-Cell Array Formulas

Excel Multi-cell array formulas are a single formula which returns multiple values and is entered into multiple cells. Hence ‘multi’ in the name.

Let’s look at an example, say we want to return a list of numbers 1 through 10 in cells A1:A10.

Step 1 : very important; first select cells A1 to A10

Step 2 : type in this formula; =ROW(1:10)

Step 3 : press CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER to complete the formula.

When to use Multi-cell Array Formulas

We could just as easily insert the numbers 1 through 10 in column A with this formula (entered in any cell):

=ROW(A1)

Then copy down as needed. Of course, this formula is subject to error if rows are inserted above it, so you’re better off using the ROWS function like this:

=ROWS($A$1:A1) or =ROWS($1:1)

And don’t forget there’s always Auto-fill or Fill Series for a quick list of numbers.

However, the benefit of using a multi-cell array formula is that it prevents rows/cells being inserted within the range without the need for worksheet protection.

Multi-cell Array Formula Examples

So far we’ve looked at a basic example, but often you’ll find more complex multi-cell array formulas that contain nested functions like this VLOOKUP with COLUMN in cells G2:I2:

VLOOKUP multi-cell array formula
I’ll explain; I have an Excel Table in cells A1:D6 called Table1:

Excel Table
And in cell F2 I have a data validation list containing the SKU’s:

data validation list
When I choose an SKU from the Data Validation list a multi-cell VLOOKUP array formula in cells G2:I2 returns the Model#, Supplier, and Price for the selected SKU:

multi-cell array VLOOKUP formula
The only difference between this multi-cell VLOOKUP array formula and a regular VLOOKUP formula is the COLUMN functions used to return the col_index_num argument for VLOOKUP.

When evaluated COLUMN returns an array {2,3,4} for the col_index_num, as you can see below:

evaluating a multi-cell array formula
And because I’ve selected 3 cells for my multi-cell array formula it returns the value from 2nd column in Table1 to cell G2, the value from the 3rd column in H2 and the value from the 4th column in I2.

Remember the main benefit of this formula over a regular VLOOKUP is that you can’t insert columns between G and I.

The other benefit is that if an inexperienced user attempts to edit this formula they’re likely to get the error message “you cannot change part of an array”, and that might just be enough to prevent them from messing up your formulas. No promises, though. Those users can be tenacious?

Multi-cell Array Formula Functions

There are also quite a few functions in Excel that return an array of results. That is they return multiple values and deposit each one in its own cell.

For example, the FREQUENCY function does this. The syntax is:

FREQUENCY(data_array, bins_array)

FREQUENCY calculates how often values occur within a range (data_array), for each value in the bins_array. Let’s look at an example:

excel FREQUENCY function
Column A contains a series of values (our data_array). We want to count how often each number in column A occurs. In column C we have our bins_array, which is simply a list of distinct numbers from column A.

In column E we enter our FREQUENCY formula by first selecting 4 cells (E2:E5, one for each bin), then the formula:

=FREQUENCY(A2:A13,C2:C5)

Press CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER to complete the formula.

The image below shows the FREQUENCY formula has counted 2 occurrences of the number 1 in our data_array, 3 occurrences of number 2 and so on:

excel FREQUENCY formula

Advantages of multi-cell array formulas

  • User error more easily avoided since editing them is difficult unless you know how.
  • Prevents inserting rows/columns within the array range, but not above or below.

Caution

Array formulas applied to large data sets can be slow and inefficient so use them with caution.

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Team Excelgoodies – www.Excelgoodies.com

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