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Excel Works With More Than You Think

Friday, June 22nd, 2007 by | Filed Under: MS Excel, MS Office Help

Excel Works With More Than You Think

Have you ever found yourself working in MS Excel and needed to enter fractions? What did you do?

(Besides have flashbacks to middle school where you labored endlessly over those dreaded things!)

I know I’ve made them into formulas before. Basically, I divide the numerator by the denominator, add on the whole number and then convert the whole thing to a decimal in the process.

It works, but only if I don’t need the fractions to be maintained.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to work in Excel with the fractions, along with getting your answers back in fractions?

I find, at least sometimes, the ability to complete the work in fractions is a plus. So, let’s get to it!

When you need to enter a mixed number into an Excel cell, simply type this:

  • The whole number
  • Followed by a space
  • The fraction numerator
  • A slash (/)
  • The fraction denominator

What you should see in the cell for, let’s say two and four-fifths, would be:

If you need to see the decimal equivalent, simply take a look in the formula bar:

Now that we’ve seen the basics, let’s look at a couple of special cases.

First, let’s discuss the case of simple fractions (fractions without a whole number).

In order to get Excel to accept simple fractions and actually treat them as fractions, you’ll need to enter 0 as the whole number, then the space, then the fraction as done above.

If you don’t enter the whole number 0, Excel will turn your fraction into a date and you don’t want that! (For many people, fractions are confusing enough without throwing unwanted dates into the mix!)

The second special case I wanted to discuss involves fractions containing three digit numerators or denominators.

In order to get Excel to keep the larger numbers, you’ll need to format the cells appropriately.

I could get the program to accept fractions with two digit numerators or denominators, but once I bumped it up to three digits, the program automatically reduced the fraction back to a two digit number. This even happened in cases where the fraction could not be mathematically reduced. It simply approximated as close at it could to the original entered data.

So, I went looking in the Format menu, Cells choice (Ctrl + 1) and found a solution.

You simply need to set the fraction type as “Up to three digits” and then click OK.

Now, you can use fractions in your formulas, in many cases making the results more exact. I mean, let’s face it, we tend to round the decimals after a few places and Excel won’t do that during the calculations. That is, unless we force it to.

That’s it. Excel fractions made easy!

~ April

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