I'm having a bit of a struggle. I'm creating a spreadsheet which uses plus signs (+) regularly. I want a semi-permanent fix for +'s turning into addition formulae.


10 Answers 10


The easiest workaround is to enter an apostrophe ' as the first character, right before the +.

Another approach is to enter the contents as a string formula like ="+5 blah".

An initial plus sign is very much needed for some types of data, e.g.- international phone numbers, so it is unfortunate that even setting the format to plain text does not help here.

  • 1
    @emmdee, if you try to write only plus sign in the text, the Google Sheets will give you a notification that you need to start the text with an apostrophe to avoid interpreting it as a formula
    – mistika
    Apr 18, 2022 at 12:28

Do a Find & Replace for = with ' and check "Also search within formulas."

  • 1
    Not sure why this has been downvoted, worked perfectly for me. Sep 12, 2017 at 1:58
  • The only one worked solution to do it in bulk! You can also select required column or fields for replacement.
    – laimison
    Aug 30, 2019 at 15:25
  • Absolutely the best solution. Should be the top answer!
    – ciamej
    Sep 25, 2020 at 10:41
  • At first I found this answer really confusing, because it implies that you're going to enter a bunch of data and then fix it, but then I realized that some people would end up in this situation only because they imported a bunch of data at once. However, this the question doesn't mention importing data, and using this method when you're entering stuff one cell at a time means you would have a messed up sheet for a while. I suspect that is why it got downvoted.
    – cesoid
    Sep 27, 2023 at 3:18

In your Google Sheets select the area and go to FORMAT -----> NUMBER -----> PLAIN TEXT. Now the formulas will not work anymore!

  • 7
    +1 on this. There is a twist, though: You have to do this BEFORE pasting the offending text :) Jan 8, 2019 at 8:37
  • 4
    @ArnaudLeBlanc this does not work unfortunately; before or after adding the format option. Jul 21, 2019 at 2:18
  • 7
    does not work, neither before nor after Aug 7, 2020 at 20:14

Just add a space before the + sign. Seemed to work for me

  • I find this less offensive than having to escape a + with a single quote, '+
    – sage
    Apr 15, 2021 at 18:07
  • 1
    When you an apostrophe it doesn't get rendered, the space does
    – Aido
    Oct 25, 2023 at 6:21

The way to do this is by adding an apostrophe (') before the + symbol, as written in Silver Ringvee's answer. However, you can automate it using Google Apps Script.

Here is a simple Apps-Script script I created to solve the problem. Whenever you edit a cell, it searches through the sheet, and places apostrophe (') before the text, i.e. you can simply add +hello, without worrying about adding ' in the beginning. The script will do i automatically for you.


Open the sheet, go to Tools->Script editor. In the editor that opens, paste the following code. Then add triggers to the script so that the script runs automatically whenever you edit a cell.

Adding trigger -

In the editor go to Resources -> Current project's triggers. In the box that opens select Add a new trigger In column Run select main function, in Events select From spreadsheet, then select On edit for the last column.

Editor's Note: This code works on cells showing #NAME?

Code -

function columnToLetter(column)
  var temp, letter = '';
  while (column > 0)
    temp = (column - 1) % 26;
    letter = String.fromCharCode(temp + 65) + letter;
    column = (column - temp - 1) / 26;
  return letter;

function letterToColumn(letter)
  var column = 0, length = letter.length;
  for (var i = 0; i < length; i++)
    column += (letter.charCodeAt(i) - 64) * Math.pow(26, length - i - 1);
  return column;

function main() {
  var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
  var data = sheet.getDataRange().getValues();
  for (var i = 0; i < data.length; i++) {
   for (var j=0;j<data[i].length;j++)
     if(data[i][j]=="#NAME?") {
     var clm=columnToLetter(j+1);
       var rng=clm+String(i+1);
       var range = sheet.getRange(rng);
       var frml = range.getFormula();

Depending on your application, the following solution could be useful:

Highlight the cell(s) that you would like to appear with a +. Go to the "123" Formatting, choose "More Formats," then go to "Custom Number Format..."

Type "+"@ into the Custom Format box. This specifies to add a + before the entry no matter if it is a positive, negative, zero, or text entry.

Now, just type in your plain information, and it will appear with a + before it. The problem is that when dealing with formulas, the data will still be shown without the positive sign.

I used https://support.google.com/docs/answer/56470?p=drive_custom_numbers&rd=1.

  • I would do that, but I also need to use - signs as well. Aug 8, 2016 at 7:51

In my case, I added a space before the +. This worked but I had to remember to trim the values when using them elsewhere. I later discovered that I could simply select the offending cells and go to Data > Trim Whitespace.

  • In my case there's no need for computation so I just an invisible character before it (). Pro tip: you can copy this character from the HTML editor of the site.
    – Tomergt45
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:50
  • 1
    The 'Trim Whitespace' feature inserts ' characters. 🙄
    – sage
    Apr 15, 2021 at 18:09
  • This is very similar to a previous answer -> webapps.stackexchange.com/a/118868 Feb 28 at 18:24

Just found this thread when searching to solve a similar problem. And thought it was worth adding my solution in case it's of use to any passing souls who find this thread.

I was pleased to discover that I wasn't the only one to come to blows with this annoying 'feature' of Google Sheets (especially that formatting cells to Plain Text doesn't solve it).

In my case I am pasting in my bank account data. They recently changed credits (I get then sometimes ;-)) to show as "+ £123" (no quotes).

And I wanted to parse this to display £123. But as it was converting it to a formula it resulted in a #NAME? error.

My solution was to point the FORMULATEXT function at it. This displays the formula (that Sheets has helpfully created from the text pasted into it) as a text value, which I can then use the SUBSTITUTE function to clean out the offending "= +".

Unfortunately I then have the added problem that the vast majority of other cells I pasted in haven't been converted to formulas so these now resulted in the #N/A error.

So to solve this I tested the cell with the ISFORMULA function to determine whether to return the original value or the FORMULATEXT solution.

A massive kludge to solve an annoying problem! But I'm not trying to land a craft on Mars, just parse my online bank data for my own use...

Hope this might help someone :-)

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I guess this is to get the phone numbers in E.164 format to be used in Twilio Google Sheet App. If yes, here is what happened.

What I tried was, put the numbers in column K without the '+' (18889991010), then in the "Phone number" column (which was column A) instead of numbers I put in ="+"&K2, which excel formatted to +18889991010. (Btw, the overall format for column A was Plain Text.

I tried sending the message once, didn't work, tried it again I was surprised it worked.

Here's my status message:

sent: Sat Jul 09 2022 08:35:48 GMT+0530 (India Standard Time)
sent: Sat Jul 09 2022 08:35:48 GMT+0530 (India Standard Time)
sent: Sat Jul 09 2022 08:35:48 GMT+0530 (India Standard Time)
error: Exception: Request failed for https://api.twilio.com returned code 400. Truncated server response: {"code": 21211, "message": "The 'To' number ++1888******8 is not a valid phone number.", "more_info": "https://www.twilio.com/docs/errors/21211", "... (use muteHttpExceptions option to examine full response).
sent: Sat Jul 09 2022 08:35:49 GMT+0530 (India Standard Time)

One number was in E.164 format already in column K, therefore came up with the error. Else worked fine.

I was surprised myself.


There is actually a quite easy solution.

Select the column that contains the + that turns into a formula.

On mac press [ ctrl + ` ]

On PC (Not 100% sure) press [ STRG + ` ]

It will still be a formula but wont display Error anymore. Now you can find and replace.

Press command + F to search (Alt + F on PC)

Select the affected column as custom range.

Enter what you want to be replaced under find

Enter a space under replace

Check the box "also check within formulas"

Press find all


  • The keyboard shortcut on Mac <kbd>CTRL</kbd>+<kbd>`</kbd> turns on the *Show all formulas option, it doesn't "fix" the problem. P.S. It doesn't work on all keyboard layouts. Feb 28 at 18:20

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