SUBTOTAL: Excel Formulas Explained

Excel can be a confusing tool, with its menus and buttons that bring up so many options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But there’s one formula that’s simple enough for anyone to use. The SUBTOTAL formula is an incredibly handy tool that works to perform operations on specified ranges without including hidden rows or columns.

As a chief marketing officer, my job involves analyzing lots of data and creating helpful reports that can assist in decision-making by the management team. Excel is my go-to tool for this kind of work, and I frequently use the SUBTOTAL formula. But, before we dive into how to use SUBTOTAL in Excel let's first learn the basics.


Before we can understand the purpose of the SUBTOTAL formula, it’s important to know what subtotals are, and why we would want to use them.

Subtotals are used when working with long lists of data that need to be divided into groups and analyzed. Instead of manually calculating each of these groups, the SUBTOTAL formula does it easily and quickly. It calculates subtotals for each group in your data, and provides summary statistics for each group.

In simple terms, the SUBTOTAL function is a tool that helps users create subtotals by calculating data in selected ranges. It can perform various functions on the selected data ranges, such as sum, average, maximum, and minimum, without the need to manually calculate things.

Using the SUBTOTAL Formula

To use the SUBTOTAL formula, it’s important to first understand its basic syntax. The function syntax for SUBTOTAL is as follows:

=SUBTOTAL(function_num, ref1, [ref2], ...)

The “function_num” argument is the type of function you want to use. There are 11 options to choose from, including AVERAGE, COUNT, MAX, and MIN. You can refer to the full list in Excel’s help section or by searching online.

The “ref1” argument is the range of cells you want to include in the calculation. You can also enter a list of cell ranges separated by commas if you want to include data from multiple ranges.

Here’s an example of how you might use SUBTOTAL function:


In this example, Excel would calculate the sum of values in the range A1:A5 that aren’t hidden.

What are the advantages of using SUBTOTAL?

When you use SUBTOTAL, Excel will ignore any rows or columns that are hidden, allowing you to hide and unhide data as needed. This is especially helpful when working with long lists of data, allowing you to quickly adjust what’s displayed without having to redo all your calculations. Another advantage is that SUBTOTAL remembers which rows were hidden, so if you want to unhide a row later, the subtotal will automatically update.

Another incredibly helpful feature of SUBTOTAL is that if you have a cell that references SUBTOTAL, Excel will automatically update the reference if you move or insert cells. This is in contrast to static references that need to be modified, increasing potential for errors.


As a CMO, I find the SUBTOTAL formula incredibly useful for analyzing data and creating reports, and I hope you do too. SUBTOTAL makes it easy to perform operations on a range of data, even when you have hidden rows or columns, without having to recalculate everything manually. Be sure to explore the different functions available through the SUBTOTAL formula and add it to your Excel knowledge arsenal.

If you’d like to learn more about Excel and other related topics, be sure to check out our blog or subscribe to our newsletter. I hope you found this article valuable, and as always, happy Excel-ing!

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