Active Cell/Active Sheet

Zooming Through Your Spreadsheets, One Click at a Time

The Active Cell and Active Sheet HIghlights in Excel

Ted French

In spreadsheet programs such as Excel or Google Spreadsheets, the active cell is identified by a colored border or outline surrounding the cell. The active cell is always in the active sheet.

Cells and Sheets

The active cell is also known as the current cell or the cell that holds the focus of the cursor. Even if you've selected several cells, only one normally has focus, which, by default, is selected to receive input. For example, data entered with the keyboard or pasted from a clipboard is sent to the cell which has focus. An exception is when an array formula is entered into multiple cells at the same time.

Similarly, the active sheet or current sheet is the worksheet containing the active cell. Like the active cell, the active sheet is considered to have focus when it comes to performing actions that affect one or more cells — such as formatting — and the changes occur to the active sheet by default.

The active cell and sheet can easily be changed. In the case of the active cell, either clicking another cell with the mouse pointer or pressing the arrow keys on the keyboard will both result in a new active cell being selected.

Change the active sheet by clicking a different sheet tab with the mouse pointer or by using a keyboard shortcut.

Active Cell and the Name Box

The cell reference for the active cell appears in the Name Box, located above Column A in a worksheet. If the active cell has been given a name, either on its own or as part of a range of cells, the range name is displayed in the Name Box instead.

Changing the Active Cell within a Group of Highlighted Cells

If a group or range of cells have been selected the active cell can be changed without re-selecting the range using the following keys on the keyboard:

  • Enter: moves the active cell highlight down one cell within the selected range
  • Shift + Enter: moves the active cell highlight up one cell within the selected range
  • Tab: moves the active cell one cell to the right within the selected range
  • Shift + Enter: moves the active cell one cell to the left within the selected range
  • Ctrl + . (period): moves the active cell clockwise to the next corner of the selected range

Moving the Active Cell to Different Group of Selected Cells

If more than one group or range of non-adjacent cells is highlighted in the same worksheet, the active cell highlight can be moved between these groups of selected cells using the following keys on the keyboard:

  • Ctrl + Alt + Right Arrow: moves the active cell highlight to the next non-adjacent range to the right of the current location
  • Ctrl + Alt + Left Arrow: moves the active cell highlight to the next non-adjacent range to the left of the current location

Selecting Multiple Sheets and the Active Sheet

Even though it is possible to select or highlight more than one worksheet at one time, only the active sheet name is in bold and most changes made when multiple sheets are selected will still only affect the active sheet.

Changing the Active Sheet with Shortcut Keys

Change the active sheet by clicking the tab of another sheet with the mouse pointer, or use shortcut keys:

In Excel

  • Moving to the sheet to the left: Ctrl + PgUp 
  • Moving to the sheet to the right: Ctrl + PgDn

In Google Spreadsheets

  • Moving to the sheet to the left: Ctrl + Shift + PgUp 
  • Moving to the sheet to the right: Ctrl + Shift + PgDn