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Your Last Guide to Google Sheets Array Formulas in 2024

Spreadsheets can be powerful tools for organizing, analyzing, and visualizing data. However, for many users, even experienced ones, formulas can seem intimidating. 

One type of formula that often gets overlooked is the array formula in Google Sheets. But array formulas don’t have to be scary. With a bit of knowledge, anyone can leverage these useful formulas.

So, what exactly is Google Sheets array formulas? Simply put, an array formula allows you to perform complex calculations across multiple cells all at once. 

For example, you can sum up an entire column or row of numbers using a single array formula instead of typing the calculation in each individual cell. This makes your spreadsheets simpler and helps you avoid errors.

While the concept may sound complex for beginner spreadsheet users, this comprehensive guide breaks down everything you need to know about Google Sheets array formulas.

In today’s guide, we’ll define key terms, walk through real-world examples of how to build array formulas from scratch, and cover some of the most common applications of Google Sheets array formulas.

Demystifying Array Formulas: A Beginner’s Guide

If the term “array formula” makes you scratch your head, you’re not alone. Array formulas may sound complicated, but with some simple examples, they can be easy to grasp.

At its core, an array formula allows you to perform calculations across multiple cells all at once. 

Imagine you have a column containing the sales numbers for each day of the month. Rather than writing a separate formula to sum each week’s sales, you could use a single array formula to add up the numbers for the entire month.

Here’s a more concrete example: let’s say you track the number of steps you take each day in a spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet might look like this:

  • Day 1: 5,000 steps
  • Day 2: 6,389 steps
  • Day 3: 2,340 steps

And so on…

Rather than writing individual formulas to calculate the total steps for each week, you could write an array formula to sum ALL the values at once in a single cell.

So, while the terminology may seem complicated at first, array formulas simply allow you to carry out math operations across entire rows or columns in your spreadsheet simultaneously.

Understanding How Google Sheets Array Formulas Work

Using array formulas in Google Sheets might seem complex at first, but they’re essentially just a way to manage a series of values in rows or columns. Let’s break it down with an easy example: 

If you enter the formula: 

Into a cell, Google Sheets will spread these values across three side-by-side columns. The curly brackets indicate that you’re using an array formula, which allows you to display data as an array.

By pressing enter, you’ll see these numbers fill up three columns next to each other. 

Here is what it should look like:

To arrange these numbers vertically in rows instead, simply use semicolons (;) instead of commas 

This changes their arrangement so that each number appears in a new row, one after the other. 

This basic example aims to make the concept of arrays clearer and help you grasp how the ARRAYFORMULA functions in Google Sheets.

Imagine you want to multiply numbers. Typically, you’d multiply a number from one cell with a number from another cell, either by copying the formula across cells or using a repeat function. 

However, using the ARRAYFORMULA function in Google Sheets allows you to multiply ranges of data with other ranges. 

This functionality enables you to apply multiple formulas simultaneously and makes it possible for functions that normally do not support arrays to work with them. 

Applying Google Sheets Array Formulas

When working with array formulas in Google Sheets, you have two simple options for implementing them into your spreadsheets.

The first is to use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + Enter (Cmd + Shift + Enter on Mac) after typing out your array formula. This shortcut tells Google Sheets you want to enter it as an array formula rather than a typical formula.

The second method is to wrap your formula in the ARRAYFORMULA function. Here is the basic structure:

The ARRAYFORMULA function takes your formula and applies it across the specified range of cells, instead of just one cell. This returns a range of results rather than a single value.

For example, say you have sales data for each day of the month in cells A1:A31. You can find the total monthly sales using:

This would add up the values across all 31 rows at once and output the total into a single cell.

So, in summary, the two ways to implement array formulas are:

  1. Keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + Enter
  2. The ARRAYFORMULA function

Getting comfortable with both methods is key to fully leveraging the utility of Google Sheets array formulas.

Why Use Google Sheets Array Formulas?

After understanding what array formulas are, you may still wonder – why even use them? Array formulas may initially appear complex, so are they really worth the effort?

In short – yes. Mastering Google Sheets array formulas unlocks countless benefits:

First, array formulas allow you to carry out multiple calculations across a data set all at once. For example, rather than writing separate formulas to sum each week or month of sales figures, a single array formula can instantly calculate totals across all rows. This saves huge amounts of time and worksheet space.

Additionally, array formulas automatically expand calculations to include new data entered. So you avoid having to constantly rewrite formulas. They also keep your sheets neat and clean by consolidating multiple formulas into one.

Finally, array formulas have dynamic abilities that regular formulas lack. You can instantly repeat a formula down an entire column, have it display running totals across rows, incorporate IF statements, and much more.

While learning array formula syntax requires some dedication up front, over time the efficiency gains are massive. Models and analyses that require hours can be completed in minutes. 

Plus, calculations stay up-to-date automatically. And collaborators can better understand the underlying logic.

In summary, sticking with Google Sheets array formulas pays dividends through:

  • Time savings
  • Formula consolidation
  • Dynamic calculations
  • Expandability

Copy Sample Sheet

Ready to learn how Google Sheets array formulas work? Copy our sample data using the link below so you can follow our step-by-step guide.

Copy Sheet

Putting Array Formulas Into Practice

Having gone through the basics of everything you need to know about Google Sheets array formulas, it’s time we delve into a more practical demonstration. 

In this section, we will show you how to leverage array formulas to perform seamless calculations across your spreadsheet. 

Here is the sample data we will use for our very first example:

Now that we have our sample data nicely put together. Let’s go over the steps together. 

Step 1: Choose an Empty Cell

When executing Google Sheets array formulas, you need to choose an area in your spreadsheet where you want the result to be generated.

For this example, we will choose cell D2 as our target cell. 

Step 2: Enter Array Formula

Step 3: Hit Enter

To generate the result in the target cell, all you need to do is hit the Enter button on your keyboard. Google Sheets should instantly generate the result in the cell you selected earlier. 

Here is what we got, using our own sample data: 

From the screenshot above, you can see that we were able to use a single array formula to automatically multiply the Price Per Unit and Quantity for EVERY row and output the total sales figure for every item.

That’s how the array formula works. 

And you know what’s even cooler? As you add new products, the array formula instantly incorporates them into the calculations.

Step 4: Calculate Grand Total

In addition to getting the total sales per item, you can also use an array formula to calculate the TOTAL sales revenue across all items.

To calculate the grand total, we need to update our sample data to include a section for the grand total. 

With that done, the next thing is to nest the array formula inside the SUM function. It should look something like this: 

Now, let’s apply the formula to our sample data, which is pretty easy. 

Simply click on cell D10, which is the target cell where we want the result for our grand total to be.

Now, head over to the formula bar and type the array formula we outlined earlier:

What the array formula does is multiply the Price Per Unit and Quantity for each row, then sum up those results to get the overall Grand Total.

For our sample data, the result would be $347, representing the total sales revenue for ALL items.

So in one single formula, we have successfully:

  1. Calculated the Total sales per product
  2. Calculated the Grand Total across ALL products

Rather than writing a separate SUM formula for each row, this array handles the entire dataset at once.

Performing Matrix Math with Array Formulas

In addition to summing and multiplying, array formulas shine for handling complex matrix math across sheet data.

For scientists, analysts, and other technical users, multiplying matrices is a common operation. Array formulas provide an easy way to carry out matrix multiplication right inside your Google Sheet without a calculator or programming.

But don’t just take our word for it. Let’s go over a practical example so you get a bigger picture of how it works. 

We are going to use the following sample data to demonstrate the entire process. 

Normally, multiplying these requires taking each element in Matrix1 and performing individual scalar operations with each element in Matrix2. This results in a new 5×4 matrix.

However, writing out all 20 formulas would be tedious.

But with array formula, you can make the entire process seamless. Let’s show you how. 

Step 1: Choose an Empty Cell

Start off by choosing an empty cell in your spreadsheet. This is where you want the result to be generated. For our sample data, we already created a Product Matrix section, which is where we want our results to be. So we will go ahead and select cell D6. 

Step 2: Enter Array Formula

Having decided on an area in your spreadsheet where you want the matrix result generated, head over to the formula bar and type in the following formula:

Step 3: Hit Enter
After executing Step 2, as we explained, the next thing you need to do is press the Enter button on your keyboard. You should instantly see the result of your matrix calculation in the selected area of your spreadsheet.

Here is how ours turned out: 

As shown in the matrix multiplication example above, array formulas allow completing complex math in a single line rather than manually writing out all 20+ individual cell formulas.

This carries some major advantages:

Dynamic Updating

Since the array formula applies across the full data range, any new data added or changed is instantly incorporated into the calculations. Plus, the 5×4 product matrix stays up-to-date with your latest numbers without needing to rewrite formulas.

Formula Consolidation

Rather than cluttering your sheet with many scattered formulas, the array formula encapsulates all the math operations in one place. This keeps your workbook clean and organized.

Math Simplification

Array formulas eliminate the need to carry out each scalar multiplication step individually. With matrices involving thousands of elements, this would be extremely tedious and inefficient without arrays.

In summary, if your work relies on matrix math or other advanced operations, array formulas are extremely useful. They save time, reduce formula clutter, keep calculations dynamic, and streamline complex math – outputting the full product matrix in one cell.

Aggregating Data with Array Formulas

So far, we have shown you very practical examples of how to calculate and perform complex matrix calculations using Google Sheets array formulas. But that’s just scratching the surface as array formula has many fantastic use cases you aren’t aware of.

In this section, we will show you another exceptional use case for array formulas, especially when it comes to aggregating data. 

To show you exactly how it works, we will use the following sample data. 

Let’s get started, shall we?

Step 1: Update Sample Data

The first thing we need to do here is update our sample data. The goal is to include a section in our spreadsheet where we want the result to be. 

Here is what our sample data looks like after making the update. 

Step 2: Choose an Empty Cell

With our sample data now updated, let’s get down to business. Since we want to aggregate data from our main data, what we want to now do is choose an area in our spreadsheet where we want the result we are looking for to be generated

Our objective for example is to find the total sales for each product from the different regions. 

So, let’s go ahead and select cell G4 as our target cell. 

Step 3: Enter Array Formula

After choosing an area in your spreadsheet where you want the result to be generated, is time to apply the Array formula. 

To do that, navigate to the formula bar and type in the following formula:

Step 4: Press Enter

With the array formula entered correctly in the selected cell, all that is left to do is press the Enter button on your keyboard. This simple action authorizes Google Sheets to generate the result in the selected area of your worksheet. 

Here is what we got with our sample data: 

Combining VLOOKUP and Array Formulas

So far, we have covered array formulas for common tasks like summing rows or columns of data, multiplying matrices, and aggregating information based on criteria. Now, let’s explore how arrays can power up other Google Sheets functions like VLOOKUP.

VLOOKUP is an indispensable tool for pulling data from tables based on a lookup value. 

However, standard VLOOKUP has limitations: it can only return a single column of data to your formula cell.

This is where combining it with array formulas adds tremendous power. Let’s walk through an application.

Business Scenario: 

Say you have an inventory tracking sheet with:

  • Item stock numbers
  • Product names
  • Number in stock currently
  • Total sales revenue

And you want to quickly lookup multiple data associated with a stock number, you can do so using array and VLOOKUP function. 

We are going to use the sample data below to show you the entire process. 

Step 1: Decide the Stock Number to Lookup

To be able to use the array formula and Vlookup effectively, you need to know the exact data you want to lookup. 

For our example, we are going to lookup the stock number 67. Our objective with this is to return values for item, quantity and revenue. 

Step 2: Choose an Empty Cell

After deciding exactly what you want to lookup, you also want to choose an area in your spreadsheet where you want the return value to be. For our example, we are going to choose cell F2.

Step 3: Enter Array Formula Wrapped with Vlookup

Now that you have decided which area of your spreadsheet you want the lookup value generated, let’s apply our array formula. 

To do that, navigate to the formula bar and type in the following formula

Step 4: Press Enter

After entering the array formula as demonstrated, we’re now ready to prompt Google Sheets to produce the lookup result.

Simply press the Enter key on your keyboard to execute the formula. The outcome will immediately appear in the selected cell.

Here is what we got using our sample data:

Looking at the screenshot above, it’s evident that we’ve successfully returned a set of values by combining an array formula with VLOOKUP.

Utilizing only the VLOOKUP function would have limited us to a single-value return. This underscores the potency of the array formula in extending functionality beyond conventional limits.

FAQS on Google Sheets Array Formulas

What is an Array Formula in Google Sheets?

An array formula in Google Sheets is a powerful tool that allows you to perform complex calculations across multiple cells simultaneously. It enables users to execute tasks such as summing a row or column of numbers with a single formula, simplifying spreadsheets, and reducing errors.

How Do I Enter an Array Formula in Google Sheets?

You can enter an array formula in two ways: by typing your formula and pressing Ctrl + Shift + Enter (or Cmd + Shift + Enter on a Mac) to indicate it’s an array formula or by wrapping your formula with the ARRAYFORMULA function.

Why Should I Use Array Formulas in Google Sheets?

Array formulas can drastically save time and reduce spreadsheet complexity by allowing bulk operations across a dataset. They automatically adjust to include new data, keep spreadsheets organized by consolidating multiple formulas into one, and enable dynamic calculations that aren’t possible with standard formulas.

Can Array Formulas Work with Other Functions Like VLOOKUP?

Yes, array formulas can enhance the functionality of other Google Sheets functions, such as VLOOKUP. By combining them, you can return multiple values from a lookup operation instead of just one, expanding the capabilities of your spreadsheets.

Are Array Formulas Suitable for Beginners?

While array formulas may seem daunting initially, they are accessible to users of all levels with some practice. Starting with simple examples and gradually moving to more complex applications can make array formulas a valuable part of anyone’s Google Sheets toolkit, regardless of experience level.

Final Thoughts on Leveraging Google Sheets Array Formulas

After going through numerous practical examples, you likely now have a solid grasp on how to tap into the power of Google Sheets array formulas.

While array formulas may initially seem complex, remember – at their core, they simply allow you to perform calculations across entire datasets all at once. 

Whether totaling sales figures, finding averages, combining with functions like VLOOKUP, or handling matrix math, arrays help simplify complex tasks into single formulas.

With Google Sheets being ubiquitous, understanding arrays is a valuable skill for any spreadsheet user – analysts, scientists, marketers, or casual users alike.

If you need more clarification on how to maximize Google Sheets array formulas, feel free to leave a comment under this post, and we will respond ASAP.