How to Use an Absolute Reference in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide

When using Excel, there might come a time when you need to keep a cell reference constant, no matter how you copy or move it around your spreadsheet. This is where an absolute reference comes in handy. By using a simple dollar sign ($), you can fix a row, a column, or both, ensuring that the reference doesn’t change as you copy it. It’s an essential skill for anyone looking to master Excel, and it’s not as complicated as it might seem.

Step by Step Tutorial on How to Use an Absolute Reference in Excel

To use an absolute reference in Excel, you will need to understand the difference between relative and absolute references. A relative reference changes when you copy it, while an absolute reference remains the same. Here’s how to make an absolute reference:

Step 1: Identify the Cell You Want to Reference

Choose the cell that you want to reference absolutely. For instance, if you have a total in cell B2 that you want to use in multiple formulas, that’s the cell you’ll make an absolute reference to.

Step 2: Add a Dollar Sign ($) Before the Column Letter and Row Number

Click on the cell where you want to enter the formula. Type in the formula and when you get to the part where you need to insert your absolute reference, type a dollar sign before the column letter and row number (e.g., $B$2). This locks both the row and the column.

If you only want to lock the row or the column, you only need to put a dollar sign before the one you want to lock (e.g., B$2 for row, $B2 for column).

After completing these steps, you should have an absolute reference in your Excel sheet. The formula will always refer to the same cell, no matter how it’s copied or moved. This can save a lot of time and prevent errors in your data.

Tips for Using an Absolute Reference in Excel

  • Use F4 as a shortcut to toggle between relative and absolute references.
  • Remember that you can make a mixed reference by only locking the row or the column.
  • Absolute references are useful when creating a formula that will be copied across rows or columns.
  • Always double-check your references to ensure they are pointing to the correct cells.
  • Use absolute references in combination with relative references for more complex formulas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between absolute and relative references?

An absolute reference is a fixed point in your spreadsheet, while a relative reference changes when the formula is copied to a new location.

Can I use an absolute reference for multiple cells at once?

Yes, you can apply an absolute reference to multiple cells at once by selecting the range and then typing the formula with the absolute reference.

How can I quickly make a reference absolute?

You can press F4 to quickly toggle through relative and absolute references.

What happens if I don’t use an absolute reference when I should?

If you don’t use an absolute reference when necessary, your formulas may reference the wrong cells when copied, leading to errors in your data.

Can I still drag and copy formulas using absolute references?

Yes, you can still drag and copy formulas with absolute references, but the absolute part of the formula won’t change.


  1. Identify the cell you want to reference absolutely.
  2. Add a dollar sign before the column letter and row number.


Using an absolute reference in Excel can be a game-changer when working with large data sets and complex formulas. It’s one of those skills that, once learned, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. The ability to lock a reference point is essential when you want to copy formulas across multiple cells without changing the reference.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different scenarios where you might need an absolute reference. The more you use it, the more intuitive it will become. And if you ever find yourself stuck, there’s a wealth of further reading and online resources available at your fingertips. So go ahead, give it a try, and watch as your Excel productivity soars!

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