# How to prevent cut and paste data changing references in formulas?

Google Sheets has a feature where if you have a reference to a data cell in a formula, and you cut the data from that cell and paste it in a new location, the reference in the formula is updated to point to the new cell location.

I'd like to be able to cut and paste my data without my formulas changing.

I've done some hideous things in the past involving the INDIRECT() function to work round this feature, but it seems like there's got to be an easier way. Any suggestions?

• funny...I never thought of this feature as a bug. It has worked this was in Excel for decades. – mhoran_psprep Jan 9 '12 at 11:02
• Did you find the time to check up on the answers given? Perhaps you can mark one of them as the best answer. – Jacob Jan Tuinstra Mar 10 '13 at 19:06
• Many different questions are answered below. Can the question be cleaned up? I think an example of your problem would be this: Cell A2 contains a formula such as "=B1 + 5". B1 contains "42". A2 displays "47", as expected. But you've realized that B1 shouldn't have "42" in it, C1 should have "42", and B1 should have "58". You click on B1, "cut", click on C1, paste. B1 is now blank (expected), C1 is now "42" (expected) but A2 still displays "47", because A2 has automatically updated to "=C1 + 5", to follow the cut and paste (not expected). What you wanted was A2 to stay "=B1 + 5". Am I right? – cesoid Jul 3 '18 at 18:55

The =\$A\$1 notation can also be automatically moved if the value in (say) A1 is changed.

The only surefire solution is to enclose all your references in INDIRECT, e.g. =INDIRECT("\$A\$1") or even just =INDIRECT("A1").

The difficulty with either of these solutions is where you have many of the same formula, e.g.

=A1
=A2
=A3
...
=A99

Normally, you would fill in the first =A1 and then copy-and-paste (or drag down using autofill) to fill out the consecutive formula automatically. If, however the first formula is =\$A\$1 or =INDIRECT("A1") then this trick won't work (in fact, this is what \$ is for - to prevent it being automatically changed).

If you have many consecutive formula, one solution is:

1. Create the formula as you normally (use plain =A1 and autofill)
2. Use the replace dialog (Ctrl+H) and use "search in formulas" to wrap all =A1, =A2 ... =A99 in the =INDIRECT("A1") etc. Note you have the option to use regular expressions when doing a find-and-replace.
• Updated answer to suggest use of better find-and-replace in New Google Spreadsheets, which can do a replace in formulas and use regexps, – Motti Strom Jan 8 '15 at 18:33
• Can you give an example of what the search/replace parameters would be to wrap all cell references in a formula with INDIRECT? – Michael Apr 8 '15 at 5:55
• You can use INDIRECT in combination with ROW() to have a formula which operates on the current row. For example: =A1 + B1 becomes =INDIRECT("A" & ROW()) + INDIRECT("B" & ROW()) – Evil Pigeon Dec 5 '18 at 2:28

When you hover over selected cells and the cursor turns to a "hand", you can then drag the cells and preserve their references. Detailed instructions below:

Select the range of cells. Then use Ctrl+C (copy; this should put the cells and their formulas in the paste buffer).

Now drag (hover over the edge of the selection until the mouse cursor changes into a hand; now you can drag) the selected cells to the new position.

Go back to the original top-left position of the copied cells and use Ctrl+V (paste).

Now you should have two sets of formulas both referencing the same cells.

• This is the only answer that preserves formulas. – amcnabb Sep 15 '14 at 18:13
• Agreed - this is the only correct answer. – stevemidgley Dec 9 '14 at 20:15
• Thanks! I was suprised that there is a difference between "Drag" and copy / paste! – rcreswick Jan 23 '18 at 22:27
• WARNING: This will break references. It's only OK to do when there are no references to the cells you're dragging. Otherwise you have to manually fix all references. – ADTC Jan 7 '19 at 6:52
• A better method: Duplicate the sheet, cut from the sheet's clone, paste into original sheet in new location where you need it. When you're done, delete away the sheet's clone. This way, the references remain unaffected. – ADTC Jan 7 '19 at 7:00

Came across this looking for a similar problem and ended up finding a solution for Excel which seems to work perfectly in the Google Spreadsheets.

For the cell references you don't want to change on paste simply add \$ before each part.

So G12 would become \$G\$12

A cell from a spreadsheet I am using that does what I need, looks something like this:

=\$G\$1&Sheet1!B3&Sheet1!A3&\$G\$2
• This didn't work for me. See my alternative below webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/22558/… – Motti Strom Oct 15 '13 at 23:38
• @Leonard, Wow the syntax is horrible. It's much more intuitive if it's the other way round, i.e. relative cells use \$ while absolute cells are default. – Pacerier Dec 20 '14 at 7:58
• @Pacerier I agree with you completely, though it works, it is horrible and hard to read. I don't use spreadsheets often enough to understand what you're suggesting though. Could you elaborate? – Leonard Dec 20 '14 at 14:40
• @Leonard, I meant the default behavior is different, so instead of \$G\$1&Sheet1!B3&Sheet1!A3&\$G\$2, we do G1&Sheet1!\$B\$3&Sheet1!\$A\$3&G2. – Pacerier Dec 20 '14 at 15:15

In Google Spreadsheets, to cut and paste cells without auto-shifting their formulas, you use Ctrl + X to cut (or Ctrl + C to copy), and Ctrl + Shift + V to paste.

• fyi, if you are using apps like Flycut (mac) with CTRL+SHIFT+V shortcut already active, then it will conflict with the spreadsheet shortcut and formula locking won't work. Disable Flycut app's shortcut, or just quit it first before doing CTRL+SHIFT+V. – Hlung Jul 30 '14 at 18:13
• Modifying paste with Shift appears to make Google Spreadsheet paste values rather than unmodified formulas. – Matt McClure Aug 26 '14 at 15:30
• This is incorrect - ctrl-shift-v will simply paste the "values" of your formulas. This will prevent transposing your data, but the resulting cells will contain static values not formulas. – stevemidgley Dec 9 '14 at 20:14
• Doesn't work, -1. – Pacerier Dec 20 '14 at 7:48
• I never cuts. When you paste with ctrl+shift+v, it always copies the values, even if you did ctrl+x on the source cells. – sparebytes Feb 16 '16 at 21:17

Work around this the same way as in Excel:

COPY and paste the data, and then go back and delete it from the original place.

Cut (instead of Copy) seems to work for me, probably for the same reason dragging selected cells works - i.e. it's the same operation. This is also the only way I know of to paste to another page without the formula changing.

If you're trying to do a Copy instead of a Move, either use the drag method (copy before dragging), or copy it somewhere else on the page first.

Here's another option:

1. Switch to "Show formulas" mode (under the View menu)
2. copy the desired area
3. Paste in some external text editor
4. Make some change - can be as simple as adding a space somewhere
5. Copy the formulas from the external text editor
6. Paste in the target area in the sheet
7. Turn Show formulas off

While this seems like a long procedure, in practice it's merely a few key strokes. Also, step #4 is mandatory in my setup - without it Sheets will still update the cells locations as if it were a direct copy and paste. YMMV.

• I can't believe it is so tricky, I don't understand why it must be so hard, but this is the only meaningful answer. It worked, thank you – Cristian Traìna Apr 3 '20 at 12:30
• This solutions is the only one really working for me. Good for bulk copy and paste of many formulae cells also. – Kurt UXD Mar 14 at 16:14
• About point 4: I had to close and reopen the sheet in order to make google sheet forgot the references. – Kurt UXD Mar 14 at 16:30

To move a range of cells to a new location in Google Sheets:

1. Select the range of cells you want to move
2. Move your mouse to any edge of the selection until the cursor changes into a hand
3. Drag your cells to the new location

This does what it should - it moves them - so all cell information will remain exactly as they were in their original location.

ps. Google has also instructed this here but they don't say you can drag from any edge, just the top one, and that is why my instruction is better! :) Also it's good to note that the cells you select need to be adjacent in order for this to work.

• Very nice catch! – marikamitsos Oct 10 '19 at 10:09
• The same method is mentioned here as well. Still. This one is better researched and explained. – marikamitsos Oct 10 '19 at 10:14

I just Find and Replace all instances of '=' with '' (or as much of the formulas I'm trying to copy as I can) to make all the formulas into plain text. I copy and paste the cells, then add the '=' back.

Note: this probably won't work for huge sheets, as it can have unintended consequences by editing other cells, but it usually works for my purposes.

Do a text copy of the formula instead of a cell copy: Use the mouse to select the formula text and press CTRL+C. Then select the destination field and press CTRL+V. This preserve the formula

• But you would have to repeat this for each cell.... Is there any way to do text copy through multiple cells? – Pacerier Dec 20 '14 at 7:49

Easiest way is to just select all of the cells you want to move and drag/drop to where you want them. If you have formulas in other cells that were referencing back to the original location of the cells you moved, the reference formulas will automatically update to the new location of the cells you moved. Hope this helps! (Assuming this works in Excel, but I've only done it in Google Sheets).

Using INDIRECT() works great for preserving the absolute position of references after the targets have been copied and pasted, but the problem is that it also preserves the absolute position when the formula is copied, meaning that you can't easily extend a formula to cover a large range when using it.

The solution is to combine INDIRECT() with ROW(), COLUMN(), and ADDRESS() to programmatically generate the position of the target cell based on the formula's cell.

In the simplest case, such as when the target cell has a fixed column and always stays in the same row as the formula, this can be done as follows:

INDIRECT("A"&ROW())

In order to introduce dynamic offsets from the formula cell, you can use ADDRESS():

In the below screenshot, the formulae in the B1:E1 were extended to the 16 rows beneath, and then the number sequence in A7:A10 was cut and pasted 6 cells down. As you can see, the simplest formulae were automatically adjusted and desynchronized, while the naive use of INDIRECT() did not extrapolate across all rows properly, but the two formulae that use INDIRECT() along with programmatic retrieval of row and column locations were able to maintain their references:

There are lots of solutions here already, but if your column-headers are stable you can use index() with row() and match(). Say the value you want will always be in a column with a [1st-row] heading of 'last month', then to find:

• the column # you would: match("last month",\$1:\$1,0)
• the row you would use (without any arguments): row()

So then your formula to get the value is (e.g. with 150 rows):

=index(\$1:\$150, row(), match("last month",\$1:\$1,0))
1. Select cells with mouse
2. Copy co clipboard
3. Move the selected cells to a new location with your mouse via capturing the edge of the group
4. Paste from clipboard into the empty space you just moved everything away from

The best way I've been able to solve this problem is by creating a duplicate of the sheet on Google Sheets.

From the duplicate, I cut the cells and then paste them to the original sheet. I then delete the duplicated sheet.

Seems tacky, but saves me a lot of time.

Here is a bit of hack, as previously noted, Ctrl+X for cut and then paste preserves the references (equations changed to refer to original cells from new location), it's copy and paste that updates according to the rules changing which cells are referred to). Using \$s à la \$A\$1 version works within a sheet, but not between sheets.

So...

1. Use Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V to cut and paste it to a new location (the equations will be modified to refer to the original locations). The problem is that then the original is gone.
2. Copy (Ctrl+C) the new position
3. Undo to restore the old (removing the new)
4. Then Ctrl+V at the new location to put back the copy

Result table copied and all the equations are modified to refer to the same original cells, even on different sheets.

Simplest way:

1. Show formulas -> View / Check Show Formulas
2. Copy formulas (or cut) -> Ctrl + C | Ctrl + X
3. Paste values -> Ctrl + Shift + V
4. Hide Formulas -> View / Uncheck Show Formulas

You can hit F4 to cycle through the various absolute referencing options when the cursor is on the cell or range. This works on Mac and Windows.