How to Use the LEFT and RIGHT Functions in Microsoft Excel

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In Brief...

The LEFT and RIGHT functions are used to return characters from the start or end of a string. The following explains how to select these functions and some possible uses.

This feature works the same in all modern versions of Microsoft Excel: 2010, 2013, and 2016.


To use the LEFT and RIGHT functions in Excel:

  1. On the Formulas tab, in the Function Library group, click the Insert Function command.
    Insert Function Command

  2. In the Insert Function dialog box:
    1. Search on "LEFT" or "RIGHT" or, in the Or select a category drop-down box, select Text.
    2. Under Select a function, select LEFT or RIGHT.
    3. Click OK.
      Insert Function Dialog Box

  3. In the Function Arguments dialog box:
    1. In the Text field, enter the cell containing the text string from which you wish to return characters.
    2. In the Num_Chars field, enter the number of characters you want to return.
    3. Click OK.
      Function Arguments Dialog Box

You could use the LEFT and RIGHT functions to:

  1. Return the area codes from a list of phone numbers (if the phone numbers are formatted as 315-333-4444, you would use the LEFT function to return the first three characters).
  2. Return the zip codes from a list of addresses (if the addresses are formatted as Syracuse, NY 13210, you would use the RIGHT function to return the last five characters).
  3. Return a piece of an identifying ID (if you have a list of IDs in which the first four digits represent a product, the next six digits represent the date, and the last three digits represent the store the product was sold from, you could use the LEFT function to return the four digits representing the product or the RIGHT function to return the three digits representing the store the product was sold from).

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Author: Dave Dunn

Dave Dunn joined Webucator as Chief Operating Officer in early 2009. He has served as a CFO and COO for numerous small and medium-sized companies, including Summit Software Company, Insight Research Group, Avalon Consulting, and HealthcareOne. He has expertise in business development, financial management, marketing and human resources and particularly enjoys working with rapidly growing companies.

Dave received his Bachelor of Arts from Hamilton College and his MBA from Syracuse University. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Montessori School of Syracuse since 2001.