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Formulas vs Functions – The Difference

What is the difference between a formula and a function?

You can think of formulas and functions like squares and rectangles. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. A square is simply a special type of rectangle with four sides of equal length.

Just like the square rectangle relationship, all functions are formulas, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

A function is a preprogrammed formula created by the spreadsheet developers. On the other hand, a formula is an expression or mathematical statement created by you, the user. Moreover, formulas can include one to many functions within their construction.

In basic terms, a function is a special type of formula that may be placed within another formula or function.

What is a Formula?

A formula is an expression or mathematical statement which performs calculations to determine the value of a cell.

For example, cell A3 below contains a formula that adds the value of cell A2 to the value of cell A1 to determine a final value of 5.

This final value shows up in cell A3.

Also, all formulas in a spreadsheet must start with an equal sign (=).

What is a Function?

A function is a predefined formula already available in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.

Both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel come with many different functions to help you perform all kinds of calculations within a spreadsheet.

The catch with functions is that you can use them inside of other functions or formulas.

The Big Takeaway

So with all of this knowledge, here is the big takeaway.

A formula is an expression you enter into a cell within your spreadsheet that performs some calculations.

A function is a predefined (already created) formula that you can insert and use within the formulas you create. Furthermore, each function is pre-programmed to perform a specific task or calculation.

Basically, a function is a special type of formula.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I always interchange these two words. I’ve been trying to be better about it, but sometimes I get it mixed up! I like your analogy to squares and rectangles! That helps a lot! I think I’ll start using the correct terms more easy after reading this article!

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