FORMULATEXT Function in☝️ Google Sheets Explained (Definition, Syntax, How to Use It, Examples)

This guide covers everything you need to know about the Google Sheets FORMULATEXT function, including its definition, syntax, use cases, and how to use it.

What is the FORMULATEXT Function? How Does It Work?

The FORMULATEXT function in Google Sheets returns a formula as a string. Essentially, it allows you to view the underlying formulas within cells as a text string instead of just the computed results of those formulas.

Its primary purpose is to provide a way to verify, inspect, or troubleshoot formulas in a spreadsheet. It’s especially useful when working with large or complex spreadsheets where following the logic or identifying errors can be challenging. FORMULATEXT function makes understanding what calculations are performed within each cell easier.

This function behaves differently based on the type of cell reference it’s given. If the cell passed into FORMULATEXT contains a formula, it will return that formula as a string. For example, if the formula in a cell is “=10+10”, FORMULATEXT will return “=10+10” as a string.

If the cell referenced contains the FORMULATEXT formula itself, the function will smartly handle this circumstance to avoid a circular reference. Essentially, instead of causing an infinite loop, it will display the formula “=FORMULATEXT(cell)” where “cell” refers to the cell containing the formula.

When a range of cells is passed into FORMULATEXT, it will only evaluate the top leftmost cell in the range. This means if you have a 3×3 range of cells containing different formulas, FORMULATEXT will only return the formula in the top left cell of that range.

Using this function, you can create dynamic records of your formulas, share the logic behind calculations with others, and debug any issues more effectively. So, while it may not directly contribute to the calculations in your spreadsheet, the FORMULATEXT function plays a crucial role in maintaining spreadsheet accuracy and transparency.


The syntax and arguments for the function are as follows:



  • cell: This refers to the cell that you want to verify as containing a formula.

Examples of How to Use the FORMULATEXT Function

Here’s a quick example to illustrate how the FORMULATEXT function can be used in Google Sheets:

Let’s say you have a formula in cell A1, which is “=SUM(B1:B10)”. If you want to display this formula in another cell, you can use the FORMULATEXT function.

In cell C1, you would type “=FORMULATEXT(A1)”. The result in cell C1 would then be the text string “=SUM(B1:B10)”.

FORMULATEXT: Common Mistakes & Problems

When using the FORMULATEXT function in Google Sheets, users often encounter several common mistakes and problems. Understanding these issues can help you troubleshoot and optimize your use of this feature:

  • Incorrect reference: One of the most common issues is using an incorrect reference in the formula. Ensure that the cell reference you provide is valid and contains a formula. If the reference is empty, invalid, or contains a constant value, FORMULATEXT will return an error.
  • Non-existent cell reference: If you reference a cell that does not exist, FORMULATEXT will return an error. For instance, the function will not work correctly if you reference cell Z500 in a spreadsheet with only 100 rows.
  • Protected formulas: If you are trying to use FORMULATEXT on a cell containing a protected or hidden formula, the function will return an error. Only the owners or editors of a spreadsheet can view the formulas in protected cells.
  • Incompatible spreadsheet settings: If the spreadsheet locale does not support the formula in the referenced cell, FORMULATEXT will return an error. For example, if your spreadsheet is set to a locale that uses semicolons (;) as formula separators, but the referenced formula uses commas (,), FORMULATEXT will not be able to interpret the formula correctly.
  • Circular References: If the cell you’re trying to use FORMULATEXT on references itself, it will create a circular reference, which will result in an error. For example, if you input =FORMULATEXT(A1) in cell A1, it will create a circular reference and cause an error.
  • Using FORMULATEXT with array formulas: The FORMULATEXT function doesn’t work correctly with array formulas. If you try to use FORMULATEXT on a cell containing an array formula, it will only return the first formula in the array, not the entire array formula.

Why Is FORMULATEXT Not Working? Troubleshooting Common Errors

If you’ve been using the FORMULATEXT function in Google Sheets and have been running into problems, it’s important to understand the common errors, their causes, and how to rectify them.

#N/A Error

Cause: This error typically occurs when the referenced cell doesn’t contain a formula. The FORMULATEXT function is designed to display the formula in a given cell, so it can’t provide a result if there isn’t a formula.

Solution: To solve this issue, ensure the cell you’re referencing contains a formula. If you’re unsure whether a cell contains a formula, click on it and look in the formula bar. If there is a formula, it will be displayed there.

Circular Dependency Error

Cause: This error is caused by a circular reference. A circular reference occurs when a formula refers back to its own cell, either directly or indirectly.

Solution: To correct a circular reference, you need to modify your formula to no longer refer to its own cell. This might involve changing the cell references in your formula or require a more complex restructuring of your calculations.

#REF! Error

Cause: A #REF! error is typically caused by an invalid cell reference. This could mean that the cell you’re trying to reference doesn’t exist (for example, if you’re trying to reference cell X1 in a worksheet that only goes up to column W) or has been deleted.

Solution: To resolve this issue, check the cell reference in your formula to ensure it’s valid. If you’ve recently deleted cells, you might need to adjust your formula to reflect the current structure of your worksheet.

#VALUE! Error

Cause: This error generally occurs when a formula expects a certain type of data in a cell but finds something different. For example, if your formula tries to perform arithmetic operations on a text value instead of a number, you’ll get a #VALUE! error.

Solution: To fix this problem, you need to ensure that your formula references the correct cells and that those cells contain the right data type. Double-check the cell references in your formula, and ensure the cells contain the data type your formula expects to work with.

#NAME? Error

Cause: The #NAME? error often appears when Google Sheets doesn’t recognize the text in the formula. This could be because of a misspelled function name, missing quotes around a text value, or a reference to a range name that doesn’t exist.

Solution: To correct this, review your formula to make sure all function names are spelled correctly, all text values are enclosed in quotes, and all named ranges exist and are spelled correctly.

Using FORMULATEXT With Other Google Sheets Functions

Combining FORMULATEXT with other Google Sheets functions can offer a powerful way to better understand and analyze your spreadsheet data. Here, we will look at how FORMULATEXT can be used with several other functions, including the CELL, IFERROR, and INDEX functions.

With CELL Function

Usage: The CELL function is used to get information about the formatting, location, or contents of a cell. When combined with FORMULATEXT, it can provide details on the formula being used in a particular cell.

Example: If you have a formula in cell B2, you can use the following combined function to get the address of the cell and the formula being used: =CELL(“address”, B2) & ” uses the formula: ” & FORMULATEXT(B2). This will provide an output such as “$B$2 uses the formula: =SUM(A1:A5)”.

With IFERROR Function

Usage: The IFERROR function can be used to return a custom message when a formula generates an error. Using FORMULATEXT with IFERROR can help you understand what formula is causing an error.

Example: If you have a formula in cell A1 that might potentially generate an error, you can use the following combined function: =IFERROR(FORMULATEXT(A1), “Error in Formula”). This will either display the formula in cell A1 or the message “Error in Formula” if the formula generates an error.

With INDEX Function

Usage: The INDEX function returns the value of a cell in a given range based on its row and column number. When used with FORMULATEXT, it can tell you what formula is used in the cell returned by the INDEX function.

Example: If you have a range of cells (A1:C3) with different formulas, you can use the following combined function: =FORMULATEXT(INDEX(A1:C3,2,3)). This function will return the formula used in the cell at the 2nd row and 3rd column of the range (i.e., cell C2).

For more details on the FORMULATEXT function, check out the official documentation at the Google Docs Editors Help Center.

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Daniel Smith
Daniel Smith
Daniel Smith is automation consultant with a passion for technology, data, AI, and machine learning.