Why Does Excel Use # Characters in Cells?

If you’ve ever worked with Microsoft Excel, you may have noticed the “#” character appearing in a cell. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re not sure what it means or how to fix it. Fortunately, understanding why this happens can help you avoid this issue in the future and work more efficiently with your data.

The “#” character typically appears in a cell when the data in that cell is too long to fit. This is known as a “hash error,” and it’s Excel’s way of telling you that the cell is not wide enough to display the entire value. While this can be annoying, it’s actually a helpful feature that prevents data from being cut off or truncated.

There are several ways to fix a hash error in Excel, including adjusting the column width, wrapping text, or using a smaller font size. By understanding why this error occurs and how to fix it, you can ensure that your data is displayed correctly and avoid any potential confusion or errors.

# Error Prefix

Have you ever encountered the “#” character in an Excel cell and wondered what it means? This symbol has a specific function in Excel, and understanding it can help you work more efficiently with your data.

The “#” character is used to prefix errors in Excel. When a formula or function in a cell returns an error, such as a divide by zero error or a reference to a non-existent cell, Excel displays the “#” character followed by a short, succinct error label in the cell instead of the expected result.

For example, if a formula is dividing by zero, it will display in the cell #DIV/0! meaning this cell contains an error where you are dividing by 0.

Another popular error message is #REF! which means the contents a reference within your formula cannot be found.

While the “#” character can be frustrating to see in your spreadsheet, it serves an important purpose. It has one purpose in alerting you to errors in your data and allowing you to quickly identify and correct them.

Here are some more common error types:

  • #NAME? Error: This error occurs when Excel does not recognize a formula or function. It can happen if the formula is misspelled or if the function is not available in the version of Excel being used.
  • #VALUE! Error: This error occurs when a formula or function contains an invalid argument or operand. It can happen if the wrong type of data is used, such as trying to perform a calculation on text instead of numbers.
  • #REF! Error: This error occurs when a formula or function refers to a cell that has been deleted or moved. It can also happen if a range of cells referenced in a formula is deleted or moved.
  • #DIV/0! Error: This error occurs when a formula or function attempts to divide by zero. It can happen if a cell referenced in a formula contains a zero value.

If you encounter a cell with the “#” character, you can investigate the error by selecting the cell and looking at the formula bar. Excel will display an error message that explains the cause of the error, allowing you to take the necessary steps to fix it.

# Formatting Problems

When you see the # character in an entire Excel cell, it means the contents of the cell cannot be fully displayed because of either the width of the cell or the formatting of the cell.

Here are a few ways you can combat the # character if it floods your cell:

  • Widen the column width of where the cell is located.
  • Change the format of the cell to display more characters.

Play around with the width of the column or change the format of the cell to see if this removes the issue of seeing cells flooded with # characters.


Excel’s use of “#” characters in cells is a useful feature that helps users identify errors in their formulas or with errors in displaying the full content of a cell.

While some users may find the “#” characters to be annoying or confusing, they are a quick way to discern that something isn’t quite right. By understanding how Excel uses these characters, users can ensure that their spreadsheets are accurate and error-free.