How to Subtract in Google Sheets

How to Subtract in Google Sheets

Subtraction is one of the four basic operations of mathematics. In Google Sheets, you can use subtraction on its own, or in combination with other functions to create complex formulas. There’s no particular function for subtracting in Google Sheets. To subtract two numbers, you can simply use the minus (-) sign.

Aside from subtracting numbers from one another, you can also subtract the values in cells by referring to them in the formula bar. Moreover, you can subtract a bunch of numbers sequentially and even subtract matrices from one another. You can accomplish all of these tasks using the minus sign (-) in Google Sheets.

How to Subtract Numbers in Google Sheets

Much like subtraction in Excel, there’s no subtract function in Google Sheets. You can subtract numbers in Google Sheets in the same fashion as you would on paper. Except that this time, you won’t actually have to calculate it yourself. Google Sheets will take care of that!

Let’s start off by subtracting two numbers:

  1. Select the cell that you want to show the subtraction result in.
  2. Go to the formula bar and type in an equal (=) sign. This will initiate your formula.
  3. Enter the number that you want to subtract from.
  4. Type in a minus sign ().
  5. Now add the number that you want to subtract. Your final formula should look like the formula below: =256-140<
  6. Press Enter.
Numbers subtracted in Google Sheets.

Google Sheets will subtract the second number in the formula from the first one and display the result.

How to Subtract Cells in Google Sheets

Rather than manually entering numbers in your subtraction formula, you can refer to the cells that contain the numbers and subtract the cells.

Two cells awaiting subtraction in Google Sheets

In this sample spreadsheet, we have the number of initial volunteers for an experiment and the number of volunteers who resigned. The goal is to calculate the number of current volunteers.

  1. Select the cell where you want to show the calculation results. That’ll be cell B3 in this example.
  2. Go to the formula bar and enter the formula below: =B1-B2​​​​
  3. Press Enter.
Two cells subtracted in Google Sheets

The formula will subtract the number in B2 (resigned volunteers) from the number in B1 (initial volunteers) and display the number of current volunteers.

How to Subtract Multiple Cells in Google Sheets

You can also subtract multiple numbers in a single formula. There are many ways you could do this, but we’re going to take a look at two of the simplest methods: Sequential subtraction and the SUM function.

Column of numbers in Google Sheets awaiting subtraction

We’ll deploy both methods on an extension of the previous example. Here we have a spreadsheet with the number of initial volunteers, along with volunteers that have resigned each month.

The goal is to calculate the number of current volunteers by subtracting the number of resigned volunteers from the initial number of volunteers.

Sequential Subtraction

In this method, we’ll start from the cell we want to subtract from, and then add the cells that we want to subtract from it with a minus sign () between each cell reference.

  1. Select the cell where you want to show the final result. This will be cell B8 for the current example.
  2. In the formula bar, enter the formula below: =B1-B2-B3-B4-B5-B6-B7
  3. Press Enter. You can now see the number of current volunteers.
Subtracting multiple numbers in Google Sheets

This formula will subtract B2 from B1, and then subtract B3 from the remainder of the previous subtraction. It will keep going until B7 is subtracted from the remainder of all previous subtractions, giving us the number of current volunteers.

Subtracting With the SUM Function

Although sequential subtraction does get the job done, it’s still a chore to type in the cell references one by one. After all, isn’t the point of using Google Sheets to make things easier?

This is where the SUM function comes in. This function enables you to sum numbers and cells in Google Sheets.

=SUM(value1, value2, value3,. ..)

The values you input can be either numbers or cells with numbers in them. SUM only works with numeral values.

To subtract multiple cells in Google Sheets, you can sum all the subtrahends using SUM, and then subtract that from the original number. In this method, we’re going to use the SUM function to achieve the results from the previous example without having to refer to the cells one by one:

  1. Select the cell where you want to show the subtraction result. As before, we’re going to use cell B8.
  2. In the formula bar, enter the formula below: =B1-SUM(B2:B7)
  3. Press Enter.
Subtracting multiple numbers using the SUM function in Google Sheets

This formula calls on SUM to add all the resigned volunteers (B2 to B7) together, and then it subtracts the total of resigned volunteers from the initial volunteers. The resulting number will be the number of current volunteers.

How to Subtract Matrices in Google Sheets

A matrix is essentially an array of numbers put in a table. You can apply basic mathematical operations on matrices in Google Sheets, and you can easily subtract one from another.

Keep in mind that to subtract matrices, both matrices must have the same structure. This means if your first matrix is a 3×3, then the second matrix and the third matrix (where you will display the subtraction results) should be 3×3 as well.

Since matrices are arrays in Google Sheets, you’ll need to write an array formula to be able to work on them. An array is a structure that houses multiple values, and an array formula tells Google Sheets to treat these values as an array, and not single values. Though the name of it might seem a bit daunting, in this case, the array formula is simple.

Two matrices awaiting subtraction in Google Sheets

In this example, we have three 3×3 matrices. The goal is to subtract matrix 2 from matrix 1 and display the results in matrix 3. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Select the first cell in the matrix that you want to show the subtraction results. In this example, matrix 3 starts from E5, so we select E5.
  2. Go to the formula bar. There are two paths you could take from here:
    1. In the formula bar, enter the formula below and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter: =(A2:C4)-(A7:C9)
    2. In the formula bar, enter the formula below and press Enter: =ArrayFormula((A2:C4)-(A7:C9))
Two matrices subtracted in Google Sheets

Regardless of which path you take, the final formula and the outcome is the same. The core formula selects matrix 2 (A7 to C9), subtracts it from matrix 1 (A2 to C4), and then displays the subtraction results in matrix 3.

The difference between the two methods is that in the first method, we only typed the core formula and then pressed Ctrl + Shift + Enter rather than Enter alone. This combination signals to Google Sheets that it’s dealing with an array, and Google Sheets automatically houses the formula inside an ArrayFormula function.

In the second method, we manually typed in the ArrayFormula function so that Google Sheets doesn’t have to. Since ArrayFormula is already present, there’s no need to use the Ctrl + Shift + Enter combo, and a lone Enter would suffice.

Subtraction Made Easy With Google Sheets

Subtraction is one of the four basic math operations, and you can subtract numbers, cells, and even matrices using Google Sheets. Though subtraction remains simple at its core, you can still combine it with other Google Sheets functions to create complex formulas that make your calculations much easier.

Google Sheets is a bliss and has the potential to make life much easier for everyone who deals with numbers. The good thing about Sheets is that just when you think it can’t make calculations any easier, it takes you by surprise and shows you that it can.

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