Use Parentheses to Control the Order of Calculations

November 19, 2021 - by Bill Jelen

Use Parentheses to Control the Order of Calculations

Problem: In what order does Excel perform calculations? For example, is 2+3*4 equal to 20 or 14?

Strategy: In Excel, if you do not use parentheses, the default order of calculations is as follows:

  • 1. Unary minus operation

  • 2. Exponents

  • 3. Multiply and divide, left to right

  • 4. Add and subtract, left to right

Thus, with the formula =5+4*-5^3/6, Excel will do the following:

  • 1. Figure unary minus on -5.

  • 2. Raise -5 to the third power (-5*-5*-5 = -125).

  • 3. Do division and multiplication from left to right (4*-125 is -500. Then -500/6 is -83.3).

  • 4. Add 5 (-83.3 + 5 is -78.3).

The answer will be -78.3.

You can control the order of operations by using parentheses. For example, the formula =(5+4)*-(5^(1/2)) will yield the answer -20.1246.

Use parentheses to control the order of operations: the formula =(5+4)*-(5^(1/2)) will yield the answer -20.1246
Figure 167. Use parentheses to override the order of operations.

Additional Details: In math class, you may remember that nested parentheses use regular parentheses, then square brackets, and then curly braces. In math class, you might have written:


Forget all that. In Excel, you use regular parentheses throughout.


When you get the formula error message, it is often because you’ve missed a closing parenthesis.

The best trick is to watch the color of the last parenthesis. If it is black, then you have a balanced number of left and right parentheses. If it is any color, then you are missing a parenthesis.

Gotcha: As you enter or edit a formula, when you type a closing parenthesis, Excel bolds the corresponding opening parenthesis. However, this bolded condition lasts for only a moment and disappears before you can figure out what is going on.

This article is an excerpt from Power Excel With MrExcel

Title photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of:
Excel Dynamic Arrays Straight to the Point 2nd Edition

Fifteen months after Dynamic Arrays debuted for Office Insiders, the functions are being released to General Availability. This second edition of the book has been updated with new examples: see how Dynamic Arrays make XLOOKUP better. The chapter on the logic behind arrays has been expanded.