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In Google Spreadsheets, what does one obtain if operations are performed on a range of cells? Have a look at the following example:

Example: Adding 3 to a range

Intuitively, I would expect the result to be 14. This is the way Matlab and similar languages behave. They perform the operation on each element.

There are two questions:

  • What is happening here? What exactly am I computing the average of?
  • Is there a way to obtain the expected behavior (other than creating a new range of cells with values increased by 3)?
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migrated from superuser.com Sep 3 '14 at 8:13

This question came from our site for computer enthusiasts and power users.

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The short answer: To get the expected result, you should use =AVERAGE(A1:E1) + 3, not =AVERAGE(A1:E1+3).

In effect, A1:E1+3 is an expression that produces non-obvious results. Try inserting just =A1:E1 in your B3 cell, and it will return 4 (more on that below). Thus, =A1:E1+3 is 7, and =AVERAGE(7) is, well, 7.

Another option is to use =ARRAYFORMULA(A1:E1 + 3), which produces a new array where all elements are added with 3, so that =AVERAGE(ARRAYFORMULA(A1:E1 + 3)) gives 14.

It seems that an expression that consists of only a range (A1:E1) will return the value of the range that corresponds to the current column. I can't find any documentation for this behaviour, so I'm just guessing based on some experimentation.

If entering =A1:E1 in different cells. In C3, it returns 9. In D3, it returns 16.
Entering a range that does not include the current column, e.g. =A1:B1 in column C, returns a #VALUE error.

Feel free to look at an example spreadsheet I used for experimentation.

Edit: based on AdamL's confimation, this is a conclusive answer.

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Excel behaves the same way. Array entry would seem to meet OP's expectation. – pnuts Sep 3 '14 at 10:01
I can't find any documentation for this behaviour. Do you know any? – Vidar S. Ramdal Sep 3 '14 at 10:03
I have seen @Barry Houdini (probably) mention this (on SO or perhaps SU) (for Excel) and I think he used a term that would now be useful for searching but I regret it was a while ago and I have forgotten. I don't recall mention in official documentation (but have not looked there). – pnuts Sep 3 '14 at 10:06
Well, I feel I have answered the actual questions: a) "What is happening here? What exactly am I computing the average of?" - you're computing the average of 7, because A1:E1 is 4 and 4 + 3 is 7 and b) "Is there a way to obtain the expected behavior" - yes, by modifying the formula slightly, or by using ARRAYFORMULA. The part I can't explain is why A1:E1 returns the element corresponding to the current cell, but that was not strictly part of the question. – Vidar S. Ramdal Sep 3 '14 at 10:40
I can't explain the behaviour either Jacob, other than to say it is what it is. In all spreadsheet applications that I know of, if you reference a range when a single value is expected, and an array calculation enabler has not been used, then the value in the corresponding row or column is used (or a #VALUE error if there is no corresponding row or column). It would be like asking "why do SUMPRODUCT and LOOKUP not require Ctrl+Shift+Enter to perform array calculations in Excel?" I don't know the answer why... they just don't. – AdamL Sep 3 '14 at 11:48

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