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Excel's Offset Function: Easily Understand It!

By Chris Newman •  Updated: 11/15/22 •  7 min read
How to create multiline text in ribbon tooltips with Excel.

Overview Of The OFFSET function

Welcome to my tutorial on one of Excel's powerful and versatile functions - OFFSET! Excel's OFFSET function is a dynamic formula that allows you to retrieve data from a range of cells based on a specified reference point. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced user, mastering the OFFSET function opens up a world of possibilities to create dynamic and interactive spreadsheets.

In this article, we'll delve into the ins and outs of the OFFSET function, exploring its syntax, practical applications, and real-world examples to help you harness its potential and take your Excel skills to the next level. So let's dive in and unlock the magic of OFFSET!

What Is OFFSET?

The OFFSET() function does just what its name says it does, it offsets!  It does this by getting a user-defined starting point and either moving or expanding from that starting point.  I find this most helpful in dealing with data that is organized by a timestamp (i.e. by month, by quarter, by year, etc…) where you may want to reference a new column every month.

Screentip and Supertip example in Excel.
InputNeeded?Description
ReferenceRequiredThis is your starting point
RowsRequiredThe number of rows you want to move away from your starting point. A positive number moves to the right and a negative number moves to the left
ColsRequiredThe number of columns you want to move away from your starting point. A positive number moves to the right and a negative number moves to the left
HeightOptionalThe number of rows (up or down) you want to expand your range (a positive number expands downward and a negative number expands upward)
WidthOptionalThe number of rows (up or down) you want to expand your range (a positive number expands downward and a negative number expands upward)

Examples

We will make our starting point Cell B2 (highlighted in yellow) in the below examples:

Examples

Example 1)   =OFFSET($B$2,4,0)

A super tip text example in Excel's Ribbon.

From our starting point (B2), we moved down 4 rows and 0 columns to return Cell B6 or “Widget D”.  Since we are just trying to target 1 cell value we do not want to use the optional Height and Width parameters as this will give us an error.

Example 2)   =OFFSET($B$2,0,2)

Example 2

From our starting point (B2), we moved down 0 rows and to the right 2 columns to return Cell D2 or “Sales Price”.  Since we are just trying to target 1 cell value we do not want to use the optional Height and Width parameters as this will give us an error.

Example 3)  =OFFSET($B$2,4,3)

Example 3

From our starting point (B2), we moved down 4 rows and to the right 3 columns to return Cell E6 or “$130”.  Since we are just trying to target 1 cell value we do not want to use the optional Height and Width parameters as this will give us an error.

 Example 4)  =SUM(OFFSET($E$3,0,0,5))

Example 4

Now I have changed the starting point on you.  We are now starting on Cell E3.  This time I want to use the OFFSET function to be a part of a summation formula.  This means in order to adjust our range we are going to want to use those optional parameters.  We are not going to adjust the position of our starting point but we do want to add to it.  So we will set our Rows and Cols parameters to zero and adjust our Height parameter down to a total of 5 cells.  We can then wrap the SUM() function around our offset range to add up all the cells in our range.  Here are a few other ways we could highlight the same range in this example using the range function:

  • =SUM(OFFSET($E$7,0,0,-5))
  • =SUM($E$3:OFFSET($E$3,4,0))
  • =SUM($E$3:OFFSET($B$2,5,3))

All these formulas will return the value $405

Possible Errors You Might See With Offset

When working with the OFFSET function in Excel, it's essential to be aware of potential errors that may occur while writing the formula. Understanding these errors will help you troubleshoot and rectify issues in your spreadsheets. Here are some common errors associated with the OFFSET function:

  • #VALUE! Error: This error often arises when one or more arguments in the OFFSET function are not valid. For example, if the reference cell is non-numeric or contains an error value, Excel will return #VALUE! This error can also occur if the specified height or width argument results in a negative value.
  • #REF! Error: The #REF! error indicates that the OFFSET function refers to a cell outside the worksheet's boundaries. It typically happens when the specified row or column offset exceeds the available cells.
  • #NUM! Error: The #NUM! error occurs when the OFFSET function is given incorrect or invalid numeric values. For instance, if the height or width arguments result in a value that exceeds the number of available cells in the referenced range.
  • Circular Reference Error: When the OFFSET function creates a circular reference, Excel will display a circular reference error. This situation happens if the function refers to a cell that ultimately relies on its own value, leading to an infinite loop.
  • Range Overlap Error: Another common mistake is overlapping the OFFSET function's range with other formulas or data. This could cause unexpected results or lead to a formula that is not functioning as intended.
  • Incorrect Syntax: Typos or improper syntax in the OFFSET function can also cause errors. It's crucial to pay attention to parentheses, commas, and other arguments to ensure the formula is written correctly.
  • Volatile Function: The OFFSET function is volatile, which means it recalculates whenever there is a change in the worksheet, even if the change is unrelated to the function itself. Overusing volatile functions can slow down the performance of large spreadsheets.

To avoid these errors, double-check your formulas for accuracy, validate the referenced cells, and consider using other non-volatile alternatives like INDEX and MATCH for specific scenarios. Additionally, always ensure that the formula references stay within the worksheet's boundaries and that the arguments are appropriate for your data set.

Offset Function Practice Examples

Hopefully, now you are able to understand the functionality of the Offset function but you still might be wondering how to use it!  Well, I have put together an Excel workbook that will show you a few different ways I have used Offset in my analytical work over the years. So go ahead, download the workbook, and start thinking of ways that you can incorporate this function into your spreadsheets!

Keep Learning

Chris Newman

Chris Newman

Chris is a finance professional and Excel MVP recognized by Microsoft since 2016. With his expertise, he founded TheSpreadsheetGuru blog to help fellow Excel users, where he shares his vast creative solutions & expertise. In addition, he has developed over 7 widely-used Excel Add-ins that have been embraced by individuals and companies worldwide.