Quickly Sum Columns or Rows of Numbers in Excel

screenshot/Microsoft Excel

Adding up columns or rows of numbers is one of the most commonly performed actions in spreadsheet programs such as Excel or ​Google Spreadsheets.

The SUM function provides a quick and easy way to carry out this task in an Excel worksheet.

of 04

The SUM Function Syntax and Arguments

Using AutoSUM to Enter the SUM Function

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

The syntax for the SUM function is:


Number1 (required) — the first value to be summed. This argument can contain the actual data being summed or it can be a cell reference to the location of the data in the worksheet.

Number2, Number3, ... Number255 (optional) — additional values to be summed up to a maximum of 255.

of 04

Sum Data in Excel Using Shortcut Keys

The key combination to enter the SUM function is:



The following steps are used to enter the SUM function using the shortcut keys:

  1. Select a cell for the sum then press and hold down the Alt key on the keyboard.
  2. Press and release the equal sign on the keyboard without releasing the Alt key.
  3. Release the Alt key. The SUM function appears within the active cell with the Insertion point or cursor located between a pair of empty round brackets. The brackets hold the function's argument — the range of cell references or numbers to be summed.
  4. Enter the function's argument:
    • Using point-and-click with the mouse to enter individual cell references
    • Using click-and-drag with the mouse to highlight a contiguous range of cells
    • Typing the numbers or cell references manually
  5. After you've entered the argument press the Enter key on the keyboard to complete the function. The answer should appear in the cell containing the function. When you click the cell containing the answer, the completed SUM function appears in the formula bar above the worksheet;

Speed up data entry by inputting individual cells and cell ranges correctly:

  • Individual cell references entered by typing or pointing must be separated by commas
  • For a range of cell references entered by typing, the start and end point cell references can be separated by a full colon
of 04

Sum Data in Excel Using AutoSUM

Use the AutoSUM shortcut located on the Home tab of the ribbon to complete the formula without having to type.

The auto part of the name AutoSUM refers to the method automatically selecting what it believes is the range of cells to be summed by the function. The selected range is shaded and surrounded by an animated border known as marching ants.

The SUM function is designed to be entered at the bottom of a column of data or at the right end of a row of data. If the SUM function is entered into a location other than these two, the range of cells selected as the function's argument may be incorrect. To change the selected range, use the mouse pointer to highlight the correct range before pressing the Enter key to complete the function

To use AutoSUM:

  1. Click the cell where the function is to be located and click the AutoSUM icon on the ribbon. The SUM function should be entered into the active cell with the range of values to be summed.
  2. Check to see that the surrounded range — which will form the function's argument — is correct. If the range is correct, press the Enter key on the keyboard to complete the function. The answer will be displayed in the cell where the function was entered. When you click on the cell containing the answer, the completed SUM function appears in the formula bar above the worksheet.
of 04

Using the SUM Function Dialog Box

Most functions in Excel can be entered using a dialog box, which allows you to enter the arguments for the function on separate lines. The dialog box also takes care of the function's syntax — such as the opening and closing parentheses and the commas used to separate individual arguments.

Although individual numbers can be entered directly into the dialog box as arguments, it is usually best to enter the data into worksheet cells and enter the cell references as arguments for the function.

To enter the SUM function using the dialog box:

  1. Click the cell where the results will be displayed.
  2. Click on the Formulas tab of the ribbon menu.
  3. Choose Math & Trig from the ribbon to open the function drop-down list.
  4. Click SUM in the list to bring up the function's dialog box;
  5. In the dialog box, click the Number1 line.
  6. Highlight at least one cell reference or a range of references.
  7. Click OK to complete the function and close the dialog box. The answer should appear in the selected cell.