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Cut vs. Copy in MS Excel

Cut vs. Copy in MS Excel

So we all know the difference between a cut / paste and a copy / paste.

I mean, it’s pretty obvious, one actually moves the cell contents and the other makes a duplicates.

But, did you know that there’s a difference in the way each of them treats formulas with relative cell references?

(Relative Cell References are formula references to other cells based on their location as compared to the cell with the formula. In opposition would be absolute cell references which refer to a specific cell no matter where the formula is copied or moved.)

No? I didn’t either until I ran across this little gem while on a fact finding search for another tip idea.

Anyway, since there is a difference it seems to me it would be a good idea to know exactly what Excel is doing with our formulas.

If you copy / paste a formula containing relative cell reference then you will find that the cell references are adjusted. That is, the new formula will call for cells located in the same positions as compared to the cell containing the formula.

For example, let’s suppose you have the following situation where cell D1 contains a formula for the sum of cells A1 to A3.


With a copy / paste you will see that as the formula is copied one column to the right the cell references are also changed to read one column to the right. (Instead of calling on cells A1 to A3 the new formula calls for cells B1 to B3.)


The original formula called for data 3 columns to the left and so does the newly copied formula.

In contrast, if you choose to cut / paste the formula then you will find that the cell references are NOT changed.


The formula still refers to the exact same cells as it did in its old location.

Who would have thought there are bigger differences between the copy and cut in MS Excel?

And here we thought it was all about how many formulas you’d end up with!

~ April