While Excel is predominantly used as a data storage and data analysis tool, it also supports inserting and using symbols.
In fact, there are thousands of symbols and special characters that can be inserted and used in Excel (ranging from more useful checkmark or sigma symbols to less-used heart or diameter symbols).
And, as is always the case, there is more than one way to insert symbols in Excel.
In this article, I will show you a couple of methods you can use to insert different types of symbols in Excel.
Copy-Paste Symbol from the Web or Other Files/Documents
The easiest way to get any symbol into Excel is to copy it from other places (a web page, another Excel file, or other documents such as MS Word, PowerPoint, PDF, etc).
Once you have the symbol in one cell in Excel, you can continue to copy and paste it in multiple places in your worksheet/workbook.
Here are a couple of places where you can find a list of symbols to copy:
I am sure you can find many other websites that list these symbols, but if you don’t, the ones I have listed above should be sufficient.
Pro Tip: When you copy a symbol from some webpage or document, paste it as value without formatting. That way, it won’t carry with it the formatting from the source. You can use the shortcut Control + Shift + V to paste without formatting.
Using the Symbol Dialog Box
Excel has a built-in Symbol dialog box that gives you access to all the symbols that you can use in Excel.
So, if you need to get any symbol in Excel, this is the foolproof way to get it.
But…. it’s not the easiest. It often requires you to look for the symbol, which sometimes is not that easy.
Let me explain how you can use the Symbol dialog box in Excel to insert any symbol in a cell.
For the purpose of this example, let’s say that I want to insert the checkmark symbol in a cell in Excel.
Below are the steps to do this:
- Select the cell in which you want to insert the symbol.
- Click the Insert tab in the ribbon.
- Click on the Symbol icon (it’s at the right end of the ribbon). This will open the Symbol dialog box.
- In the Symbol tab, you can see all the symbols that are available to be inserted. You can also change the Font from the drop-down (as some symbols are available in specific fonts only)
- While you can scroll through all the symbols for a Font, there is also a Subset drop that can help you find the symbol faster. For example, if you want to insert Greek symbols such as Alpha or Delta, you can select Greek and Coptic from the drop-down.
- Locate and select the Symbol.
- Click on the Insert button to get the symbol in the cell (which would be the cell you selected in Step 1)
Pro Tip: You can use the keyboard shortcut ALT + N + U to open the symbol dialog box.
Here are a couple of extra things you should know:
- The Symbol dialog box also has a Special Characters tab that lists some of the Special Characters (such as Trademark, Copyright, or Em-dash). You can insert these symbols by selecting them and then clicking on the insert button (or simply double-clicking on the symbol).
- If you know the Character code of the symbol you want to insert, you can enter that in the ‘Character code’ field in the Symbol dialog box. This will select the symbol that you can get in the cell by clicking on the Insert button.
- When you click on the Insert button (or double-click on the symbol), it inserts one instance of the symbol. If you click on the Insert button twice, it will insert two symbols, and so on.
Using the ALT Shortcuts
Many commonly used symbols also have the ALT shortcuts.
For example, to insert the uppercase Delta symbol, you can use the below shortcut:
Alt + 916
To use this shortcut, you need to hold the ALT key and then press the numbers on the numeric keypad of your keyboard.
So, if there are some symbols you need to use quite often, and they have a shortcut, it would be useful to memorize the shortcut and get the symbols quickly with a few keystrokes.
Here are a couple of things to know about using the shortcut method to insert symbols in Excel:
- You can not use these shortcuts if you do not have a numeric keypad.
- Not every symbol has a shortcut. If the one you want doesn’t have it, you can use the Symbol dialog box method covered above.
Using CHAR or UNICHAR Functions
You can get a lot of commonly used symbols by using the CHAR or UNICHAR functions.
For this, you need to know the character code or the Unicode of the symbol that needs to be used with the formula.
For example, if you want the degree symbol in a cell, you can use the formula:
…where 176 is the character code corresponding to the degree symbol.
Similarly, some characters can be inserted using the code within the UNICHAR function. For example, you can use the below formula to insert the Infinity symbol in a cell:
One big difference between the formula method and all the other methods covered in this article is that with the formula method, I can combine two different formulas to get the result.
For example, below, I have used a formula to combine the numbers in column A to get the same numbers in column B with a degree symbol.
In case you don’t need the formula and only want the symbol, you can remove the formula and only keep the result of the formula.
Using the Character Map
Similar to the Symbol dialog box in Excel, the Windows operating system has a Character Map that can also be used to insert any symbol In any application in Windows (including Excel).
Below are the steps to open the character map dialog box in Windows:
- In the search bar in Windows, type ‘character map’.
- Click on the Character Map app that appears as one of the results.
- Locate and double-click on the character that you want to insert. This will make the character appear in the ‘Characters to copy’ field.
- Click on the copy button to copy the character to your clipboard
- Go to the cell in Excel (or any other application in which you want to insert this) and then paste it (use Control + V)
While the Character Map is similar to the Symbol dialog box in Excel, here are some additional benefits of using it:
- It shows you more symbols in one view without scrolling compared to the symbol dialog box (which I find slightly more useful).
- It allows you to search for any character by typing its name in the ‘Search for’ field. For example, if you’re searching for the delta symbol, you can type the word delta in the field and then click on the Search button.
- If you know the Unicode of the character you want to copy, you can type that unicode in the ‘Go to Unicode’ field, and it will immediately select that symbol/character.
If you’re using the Mac operating system, you can use a similar Character Viewer option to do this.
Using AutoCorrect Trick (Best for Symbols You Use Often)
Do you know that Excel has a built-in proofing option that autocorrects some of the commonly misspelled words?
For example, if you type ‘abbout‘ in any cell, it will automatically correct it to about.
It also has some pre-made codes that you can use to insert some of the symbols.
- Type (c), and it will automatically convert it into the copyright symbol ©
- Type (e), and it will automatically convert it into the Euro symbol €
- Type (r), and it will automatically convert it into the Registered Trademark symbol ®
- Type ™, and it will automatically convert it into the trademark symbol ™
While this is great, here is the cool trick – You can create your own shortcodes, which, when typed, will automatically convert into the specified symbol.
For example, if I want to insert the degree symbol (°), I can create a code such as, say degsym.
Now whenever I enter degsym in Excel, It would immediately convert it into a ° for me.
Let me show you how to set it up:
- Click the File tab in the ribbon.
- In the Excel backstage area that opens, click on Options. It will open the Excel options dialog box.
- Click on the Proofing option in the left pane.
- Click on the ‘AutoCorrect Options’ button. This will open the AutoCorrect dialog box.
- Make sure you are in the AutoCorrect tab (which is usually selected by default)
- In the Replace field, enter the shortcode that you want to assign to the symbol. In this example, I will go with degsym.
- In the With field, enter the symbol you want this shortcode assigned to. You can copy this from other documents or copy it from some webpage on the internet. In this case, I will use °
- Click Ok
Now, whenever you manually type the specified shortcode and hit the space key or the enter key, it will immediately replace it with the corresponding symbol.
This method is best used for symbols that you need to use quite often. You can create a shortcode that is easy to remember, which would automatically convert into that symbol as soon as you type it in Excel.
A couple of things to remember about this method:
- When you create a shortcut using this method to insert a symbol, it will work in all Microsoft Office applications, such as Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, etc.
- Create a shortcut that is unique and unlikely to be used anywhere else in your work. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally convert the same shortcode used somewhere else into the specified symbol.
Frequently Asked Questions about Symbols in Excel
Below are some common questions people have about using symbols in Excel, or things that I think you should know:
Where is the Symbol Dialog Box in Excel?
You can open the Symbol dialog box in Excel using the below steps:
- Click on the ‘Insert’ tab in the ribbon.
- In the Insert tab, look for the “Symbols” group. This is usually located towards the right side of the ribbon.
- Click on the ‘Symbol’ icon in the Symbols group.
- This will open the Symbol dialog box, where you can select from a variety of symbols to insert into your worksheet.
Can we find All Symbols in the Symbol Dialog box?
Yes, you can. It might take a little while for you to search and locate the symbol, but it has it all.
Do All Symbols have a keyboard shortcut or CHAR/UNICHAR Formula?
Not all symbols would have a keyboard shortcut or a corresponding CHAR or UNICHAR formula for it. In such cases, you’ll have to resort to options such as using the Symbol dialog box, Character Map, or copying it from other documents or web pages.
Can I format symbols in Excel?
Absolutely. A symbol is nothing but a text character, so formatting that you can do with a text string in Excel, such as changing the font size or font color or making it bold/italics/underline, can also be done with symbols.
Do all these methods also work in Google Sheets?
All the Unichar and Char functions would work the same way in Google Sheets as well. However, not all keyboard shortcuts that work in Excel would also work in Google Sheets. It also does not have a similar symbol dialog box. In general, when it comes to working with symbols, I find Google Sheets a bit limiting compared to Excel.
Why are some symbols not showing properly in my Excel?
Some symbols in Excel are tied to specific fonts in Excel. For example, some symbols will only be displayed properly if you have activated the Wingdings font for the cell. Otherwise, they may show up as a question mark or a box.
What is the difference between Windows and Mac when working with symbols?
Below are the differences between the two operating systems and how they deal with symbols:
Symbol Dialog Box:
- Windows: Excel for Windows uses a standard symbol dialog box that provides a wide range of symbols. Users can select from different fonts and subsets for specific types of symbols.
- Mac: The symbol dialog box in Excel for Mac might have a slightly different layout and appearance. The process of inserting symbols is generally similar, but the interface and navigation can vary slightly.
- Windows: Excel on Windows allows the insertion of symbols using ALT key codes. Users can type ALT + a number code to insert specific symbols.
- Mac: Mac does not support ALT key codes in the same way. Instead, Mac users often use the Option key along with other keys to insert symbols, or they use the Character Viewer (a macOS feature) for more options. Not all keyboard shortcuts Excel in Windows would have an equivalent in Excel on Mac OS.
Character Viewer vs. Character Map:
- Windows: Windows has a Character Map utility that can be used to copy symbols and then paste them into Excel.
- Mac: Mac uses a Character Viewer, which offers a more graphical interface and can be accessed through the menu bar or with keyboard shortcuts. It tends to be more user-friendly and visually oriented than the Windows Character Map.
Availability of Symbols:
- The set of available symbols can differ slightly between Windows and Mac, largely due to the different fonts installed by default on each operating system. Some symbols might be available in one version of Excel but not the other, depending on the fonts.
Due to the different default fonts on Windows and Mac, the same symbol can appear differently on the two platforms. This is particularly noticeable with more obscure or specialized symbols.
Other Excel articles you may also like:
Articles about inserting symbols in Excel:
- Insert Pi Symbol (π) in Excel
- Insert Cent Symbol in Excel
- Add Bullet Points in Excel
- Insert Diameter Symbol in Excel
- Insert Alpha Symbol in Excel
- Insert Sigma Symbol in Excel
- Insert Omega Symbol in Excel
- Insert X-Bar (Average / Mean) Symbol in Excel
- Insert Copyright Symbol in Excel
- Insert Infinity Symbol in Excel
- Insert Registered Trademark Symbol in Excel
- Insert Approximate (Almost Equal To) Symbol in Excel
- Insert Arrows in Excel
- Insert Less Than Or Equal To Symbol in Excel