How to Subtract in Google Sheets (3 Easy Ways)

Subtracting numbers in real life is a no-brainer. We learn to do this so early in life that we never even think of it as a skill. The advent of calculators has made it easier to subtract even large numbers.

Subtracting data values in Google Sheets, on the other hand, is a whole other thing.

When you’re dealing with large amounts of data, it becomes impractical to use your calculator to perform subtractions one at a time. In fact, why bother working on data one at a time when you can perform thousands of subtractions in one go?

Google Sheets uses Formulas and Functions to help you subtract.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to subtract in Google Sheets.

Learning How to Subtract in Google Sheets

Google Sheets and more or less all spreadsheet software thrive on functions and formulas. Both provide excellent ways to perform calculations and obtain results. That’s precisely why, out of all the different ways in which you can subtract on Google Sheets, we have chosen to highlight these two methods.

To understand how to quickly subtract cell values in Google Sheets, we are going to use the following dataset:

Dataset to Subtract in Google Sheets

In this dataset, we want to subtract each Expenditure value (column B) from each Income value (column A) and put the resultant Balance in column C.

Subtracting in Google Sheets Using a Simple Formula

A formula is just a statement that a user makes to perform a calculation. A formula consists of a combination of values along with one or more operations, like addition, subtraction, etc.

The values used in a formula can be numeric or text values reference to cells or defined names.

A formula can be simple, as the ones are shown below, with just two variables and an operation:

= 6 - 5
= A2 – B2

It can also be complex, consisting of a series of operations.

In any case, a formula should always start with an ‘equal to’ sign (=). Whenever you use a formula in a cell, it is displayed on the formula bar.

When you finish entering a formula in a cell, it performs the operations as soon as you press the return key.

At this point, the result of the formula gets displayed in the cell, while the actual formula is displayed in the formula bar when the cell is selected:

Subtract in Google Sheets using operator

To use a formula to subtract two cell values in Google Sheets, follow these steps:

  1. Select the cell where you want the result to appear (cell C2)
  2. Put an equal to sign (=) in the cell to start the formula. If you look up at the formula bar you will notice an equal to (=) sign appearing there too.Add equal to sign in the cell
  3. Select the cell containing the number you want to subtract from, or the minuend(cell A2)
  4. Follow this with a minus sign (-).
  5. Select the cell containing the number you want to subtract, or the subtrahend (cell B2)
  6. Press the return key.
  7. The difference between the values in A2 and B2 should now be displayed as the result in cell C2.Subtraction using operation
  8. Once you get the first formula ready, getting results for the rest of the cells in the same column is easy. You will notice a small square at the bottom right corner of cell C2. This is called the Fill Handle. Hover your mouse over it.Fill handle
  9. When your mouse changes into a plus sign, just double click on the square. You will find the formula copied to all the cells in column C. Alternatively, you could just drag the fill handle down the column till you reach the last row.

Each cell in column C should now contain the value of the corresponding Expenditure, subtracted from the Income!

Wasn’t that easy?

Apply the formula to the entire column

Here’s another way…

Subtracting in Google Sheets using the MINUS Function

A function is a kind of formula that has been pre-built to perform specific tasks. For example, there are functions to find sums, differences, averages, etc. MINUS is the Google Sheets subtract function.

Just like formulas, functions always start with an ‘equal to’ sign (=). This is followed by the name of the function and parentheses. Inside the parentheses, you can list parameters (or arguments), if applicable.

Arguments are input values that the function uses to perform its task. The number and type of arguments depend on the syntax of the function. For example, Google Sheets has a function called MINUS that is used to subtract two numbers. This function’s syntax takes two parameters – the subtrahend and the minuend.

If there is more than one argument, then they are separated by commas. So the MINUS function’s syntax is as follows:

=MINUS(value1, value2)

Here:

  • value1 is the subtrahend.
  • value2 is the minuend.

In this formula, value1 and value2 can either be numbers, dates, or references to cells containing numbers and/or dates.

So, you can write either:

=MINUS(6, 5)

or

=MINUS(A1 , B1)

Like formulas, whenever you use a function in a cell, it is displayed on the formula bar.

When you finish entering the function in a cell, it performs the operations as soon as you press the return key.

At this point, the result of the function gets displayed in the cell, while the actual formula is displayed in the formula bar when the cell is selected:

Subtracting in Google Sheets using Formula bar

Here’s how you can type out a function to subtract two cell values in Google Sheets:

  1. Select the cell where you want the result to appear (cell C2)
  2. Put an equal to sign (=) in the cell to start the formula. If you look up at the formula bar you will notice an equal to (=) sign appearing there too.
  3. Type function name MINUS, followed by opening parentheses. Your formula bar should now show:Enter the MINUS function
  4. Select the cell containing the number you want to subtract from, or the minuend(cell A2). This will display the cell reference of the selected cell after the opening parentheses.
  5. Follow this with a comma (,)
  6. Select the cell containing the number you want to subtract, or the subtrahend (cell B2)
  7. Close the parentheses. Your formula bar should now show:Enter references in the MINUS formula
  8. Press the return key.
  9. The difference between the values in A2 and B2 should now be displayed as the result in cell C2.Minus Formula result
  10. Once you get the first formula ready, getting results for all the rest of the cells in the same column is easy. Hover your mouse over the Fill Handle (located at the bottom left of cell C2).
  11. When your mouse changes into a plus sign, double click on the square. You will find the formula copied to all the cells in column C. Alternatively, you could drag the fill handle down the column till you reach the last row.

Each cell in column C should now contain the value of the corresponding Expenditure, subtracted from the Income.

Apply the formula to the entire column

How to Do Subtraction in Google Sheets With the SUM Function

Although the SUM function is usually for adding numbers, you can also use it for subtraction. You just have to use the minus symbol with the parenthesis between the two values. You can use SUM as a subtract function Google Sheets like so:

SUM(A2-B2)

an example of using SUM to subtract

The Time Subtract Formula In Google Sheets

Unfortunately just using MINUS or SUM won’t allow you to subtract time effectively. Instead, you have to use the TIME function as well. You can use it with the following formula:

=cell reference-TIME(N hours,N minutes,N seconds)

Let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say we needed to take away 2 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds away from the time in cell A1. Our formula would look like:

=A1-TIME(2,31,20)

subtracting time in Google Sheets

How to Subtract Numbers in Google Sheets Using Arrays

ARRAYFORMULAS can be super handy to fetch whole columns’ worth of data at once and complete calculations on them. Here is how you would use an array formulas with the MINUS function:

=ARRAYFORMULA(MINUS(array1, array2)

Let’s substitute some figures into an example and see what it looks like:

Array answers

You can click and drag over the cell references rather than entering them manually too.

How to Do Subtraction in Google Sheets Across Multiple Worksheets

All you have to do to subtract across sheets is use the sheet prefix and a cell reference with the minus sign in between. Here is an example:

Subtracting from different sheets

The above example has subtracted the cell B5 in Sheet2 from B5 in Sheet1. Just don’t forget to add the exclamation mark between the sheet name and the cell reference. That’s how to subtract cells in Google Sheets from separate worksheets. 

How to Subtract on Google Sheets FAQ

How Do You Create a Subtraction Formula in Google Sheets? / How Do You Subtract Numbers in Google Sheets?

There are a few different ways to create a subtraction formula in Google Sheets. The simplest way is to simply use the MINUS function. For example to do the calculation 5-4 you’d just have to type:

=MINUS(5,4)

How Do You Add and Subtract on a Spreadsheet?

If you need to add and subtract in one formula, you should use the SUM function with the appropriate operators to signal to Google Sheets where to subtract and where to add. Let’s say you wanted to find out 5 +5 -7. You could use the following formula:

=SUM(5+5-7)

Addition and subtraction in one formula

How Do You Subtract Fractions in Google Sheets?

You can subtract fractions by using the Google Sheets subtraction formula, the MINUS function. For example, to take one quarter away from one half you could use the following formula:

=MINUS(1/2,1/4)

subtracting fractions

You could use cell references containing the fractions instead of manually typing them. Note that the results will display as a decimal.

Read more about converting decimals to fractions.

Wrapping Up Subtraction In Google Sheets

So this is how to subtract in Google Sheets using simple formulas. Familiarize yourself with each way to make building bigger formulas easier as your knowledge progresses.

I hope you found this article useful!

Other Google Sheets articles you may like:

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Sumit

Sumit

Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel Expert.

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