Let’s take a look. In this worksheet we have two highlighted cell references.  Let’s create a formula that adds them together. We can enter =B9 + D6 We get a result of 35, as expected. And any change to cell B9 or D6 is reflected immediately. The cell references in this formula are relative references. What this means is that Excel evaluates the reference B9 as the cell two rows up, and two rows to the left. And Excel evaluates the address D6 as the cell five rows up. Let’s copy our formula to a different cell to see relative references in action. At the new location, we get a result of zero. Let’s check the formula to see why that is. We see that Excel has updated the relative references. The formula is still adding the cell two rows up and two rows to the left, to the cell five rows up. Both cells are empty, so we get a result of zero. Let’s copy and paste a few more times. In each case, we see that Excel has updated the references in the formula to point to the same relative locations in the worksheet. What will happen if we paste the formula into cell L5, where there is no cell five rows above? In that case, we’ll get a REFERENCE error. If we check the formula, we can see that the first reference is still valid, but the second reference is not. Excel will show a REF error whenever it can’t locate a cell reference.

Dave Bruns

Hi - I’m Dave Bruns, and I run Exceljet with my wife, Lisa. Our goal is to help you work faster in Excel. We create short videos, and clear examples of formulas, functions, pivot tables, conditional formatting, and charts.