A Beginner's Guide to Excel's NOW Function

Add the current date and time with Excel's NOW function

NOW Function in Excel

Ted French

One of Excel's best-known date functions is the NOW function, and it can be used to quickly add the current date or time to a worksheet.

It can also be incorporated into a variety of date and time formulas for such things as:

  • Finding dates that are so many days past the current date
  • Finding the number of days to the end of the current month
  • Returning the current minute

NOW Function Syntax and Arguments

A function's syntax refers to the layout of the function and includes the function's name, brackets, comma separators and arguments.

The syntax for the NOW function is:

= NOW ( )

Note: The NOW function has no arguments—the data normally entered inside the function's parentheses. 

Entering the NOW Function

Like most Excel functions, the NOW function can be entered into a worksheet using the function's dialog box, but since it takes no arguments, the function can be entered into the active cell by typing =Now() and pressing the Enter key on the keyboard. The result displays the current date and time.

To change the information displayed, adjust the cell's formatting to show just the date or the time using the Format tab on the menu bar.

Shortcut Keys to Formatting Date and Time

To quickly format the NOW function output, use the following keyboard shortcuts:

Date (day-month-year format)

Ctrl + Shift + #

Time (hour:minute:second and AM/PM format - such as 10:33:00 AM)

Ctrl + Shift + @

Serial Number/Date

The reason the NOW function takes no arguments is because the function obtains its data by reading the computer's system clock.

Windows versions of Excel store the date as a number representing the number of full days since midnight January 1, 1900 plus the number of hours, minutes and seconds for the current day. This number is called a serial number or serial date.

Volatile Functions

Since the serial number continually increases with each passing second, entering the current date or time with the NOW function means the function's output continually changes.

The NOW function is a member of Excel's group of volatile functions, which recalculate or update every time the worksheet in which they are located recalculates.

For example, worksheets recalculate each time they are opened or when certain events occur—such as the entering or changing of data in the worksheet—so the date or time changes unless automatic recalculation is turned off.

Forcing Worksheet/Workbook Recalculation

To force the function to update at any time, press the following keys on the keyboard:

  • Shift + F9 to recalculate the active or current worksheet;
  • F9 to recalculate all open workbooks.

Keeping Dates and Times Static

Having the date and time continually change is not always desirable, especially if they are used in date calculations or if you want a date or timestamp for a worksheet.

Options for entering the date or time so they do not change include shutting off automatic recalculation, typing dates and times in manually, or entering them using the following keyboard shortcuts:

  • The date shortcut is Control + ; (semicolon)
  • The time shortcut is Control + Shift + : (colon)