Basic Terms and Terminology for Microsoft Excel

Updated on October 6, 2017
transpose profile image

I have a degree in Materials Science and work in marketing. I have a healthy sense of curiosity and love a challenge.

Excel is one of the more versatile programs out there. It is capable of performing small tasks such as organizing data to more complex arithmetic operations for financial or engineering needs. While basic operations are easy to learn, the program does have some specific jargon that may throw people off. This article looks at some terms that Excel uses to give users an idea of the basic functions of this program.

List Of Terms Covered

Quick Explanation
An Excel file.
A worksheet within an Excel file.
The menu bar at the top of Excel.
A rectangular box in a worksheet that contains data.
Name Box
Shows the cell/table selected; also used to rename cells/tables.
Cell Reference
The cell/table selected.
Formula Bar
Shows the data/formula/phrase in the cell selected.
A set of instructions for Excel to carry out.
Formulas built into Excel.
A group of cells or tables denoted by a colon between th 1st and last cell.


A workbook is, to put it simply, an Excel file. All Excel files are workbooks, with one or many worksheets.

In the image above, the workbook is called Book 1. If the name is not changed, the Excel file will be saved under this title.

Think of it as an accounting ledger book. That's right, the entire book. Individual pages are called worksheets.


A worksheet is an independent (we will talk more about this later) sheet which can contain one or many data tables.

Think of it as a page in an accounting book, one page of many.

Most of the time, when you start a new workbook, you would have three worksheets (shown in the red box in the image above). To delete any, right-click on the worksheet and select Delete. To add worksheets, click the Add Worksheet button (the green box that is highlighted).

A worksheet is independent of other ones in the sense that they are all separate entities. You can have a formula that references amongst worksheets. Formulas are explained below.


The Ribbon is the row of buttons above the work area. The ribbon is only found in versions of Excel from 2007 and later. It replaces the menus and toolbars found in earlier versions.

The Ribbon has a few tabs such as Home, Insert, and Page Layout. Clicking on a tab will show the options associated with this section of the Ribbon.


A cell is any rectangular box within a worksheet. They can contain data or formulas.

An active cell or current cell is the one which is currently selected. It is denoted by a thick black outline.

Name Box

The Name Box shows the name of either the active/current cell, or the name of a defined range of cells or table.

All cells or a range of them (a table) can be named by selecting it and changing the name in the Name Box. However, each worksheet can have only one of the same named cell/table.

Cell Reference

The Cell Reference shows the name of the cell/table being selected, i.e., it shows the name of the active/current cell or table.

Cell References are shown in the Name Box.

Formula Bar

The Formula Bar is where the contents of the active/current cell is shown.

If a formula is used in the active/current cell, the Formula Bar would show the actual formula used, whereas the active/current cell would show the final, calculated result (which could be a number or phrase).


One of Excel's most powerful tools is the ability to use formulas. Formulas allow you to do automated calculations within worksheets, and even amongst different workbooks.

A formula is typed into the formula bar and must begin with an equal (=) sign. You can use formulas to carry out any of the four basic mathematical operators (add, subtract, multiply, and divide), use brackets to dictate the order of solving the formula, or use any of the hundreds of in-built functions in Excel.


Functions are formulas that are built into Excel. Think of functions as an easier way to create formulas.

For example, in the image above, we want to find the sum total of cells A1 and B1. We would write the formula as =A1+B1.

If we make use of the SUM function, the formula would be =SUM(A1:B1).

Granted, it might be easier just to add both cells. However, when you have to do this for many cells or among different tables, the SUM function would really make writing the formula much easier. There are about 400 functions built into Excel.

Some more reading might be useful if you really want to know how to make use of functions. A book that I found really useful is Excel 2010 Formulas by John Walkenbach (a.k.a. Mr Spreadsheet). It is well-written and the explanation of each and every function will really help you get the hang of Excel.


Lastly, we'll talk about the array, also known as a range. Arrays/ranges are just consecutive cells that are grouped together. For example, in our SUM formula above, the array/range used is A1:B1, which tells the formula to read from A1 to B1.

Arrays/ranges are denoted with a colon (:) between the first cell and the last cell of the array/range. They can be used to call up cells in:

  • Rows (e.g., A1:E1, shown in the red box)
  • Columns (e.g., A1:A5, shown in the green box)
  • Tables (e.g., A1:E5, shown in the blue box)

As you can see, these really help shorten the formula when there are many cells being referenced.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      5 weeks ago

      I like the basic definitions up top and then the in-depth definitions further down the page. Thank you.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      what I need is not here ohh but it's a term

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      This is a great basic beginner's guide!

    • profile image

      Jo Ann 

      18 months ago

      I am stupid-I need the definition for the Ctrl, Alt, F2, ..all Fkeys

    • profile image

      temmy temmy 

      19 months ago

      Good explanation .Tenk s

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      I nid more

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Really very helpful. Thanks

    • profile image

      Adenupebi Adebola 

      2 years ago

      Intact , it really helpful

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Shigela. 

      2 years ago

      its a very nice work waooooo

    • profile image

      BLAH BLAH.. 

      2 years ago

      Good explanation, thanks a lot.

    • profile image


      4 years ago



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)