For Seniors: How to Use Common Excel Functions

By Faithe Wempen

Excel has hundreds of functions, but most of them are very specialized. The basic set of Excel functions that the average user works with is much more manageable.

The simplest functions have no arguments. Two prime examples are

  • NOW: Reports the current date and time.

  • TODAY: Reports the current date.

Even though neither uses any arguments, you still have to include the parentheses, so they look like this:

=NOW( )


Another basic kind of function performs a single, simple math operation and has a single argument that specifies what cell or range it operates on. The following table summarizes some important functions that work this way.

Simple One-Argument Functions in Excel
Function What It Does Example
SUM Sums the values in a range of cells. =SUM(A1:A10)
AVERAGE Averages the values in a range of cells. =AVERAGE(A1:A10)
MIN Provides the smallest number in a range of cells. =MIN(A1:A10)
MAX Provides the largest number in a range of cells. =MAX(A1:A10)
COUNT Counts the number of cells in the range that contain numeric
COUNTA Counts the number of empty cells in the range. =COUNTA(A1:A10)
COUNTBLANK Counts the number of non-empty cells in the range. =COUNTBLANK(A1:A10)

The following table shows some functions that change how numbers are presented.

Excel Functions that Change Numbers
Function What It Does Example
ABS Presents the absolute value of the number. =ABS(B1)
ROUND Rounds the number up or down by a specified number of decimal
EVEN Rounds a positive number up, or a negative number down, to the
next even whole number.
ODD Rounds a positive number up, or a negative number down, to the
next odd whole number.

Here are some things to note about the items in the preceding table:

  • Absolute value: This is the positive version of a number. For example, the absolute value of –15 is 15. If the number is already positive, it stays positive.

  • Multiple arguments: See the entry for ROUND. There are two arguments: the cell address or number to operate on, and the number of decimal places. A value of 0 for the decimal places results in rounding to the nearest integer.

When a function has more than one argument, the arguments are separated by commas. You can see this in the ROUND example: ROUND(B1,0).

Two other functions, ROUNDUP and ROUNDDOWN, work just like ROUND except they specify which way the rounding will always occur.