Why is it Google Sheets function documentation uses commas instead of semicolons to separate parameters?

For example, the documentation for =SORT gives the usage example:

=SORT(A2:B26, 1, TRUE)

whereas I need to replace the commas with semicolons for the formula to work:

=SORT(A2:B26; 1; TRUE)

Comma syntax did not work at all but caused formula parse errors and massive headaches before I learnt about it.

  • 1
    In my case the documentation using commas is wrong: it tells me to use comma-separated parameters which doesn't work. Precisely, it's not consistent with other parts of the app since it doesn't necessarily match the document's locale setting: Google Sheets created the doc silently using a German locale but shows the US documentation (even if called from within the doc) leading to quite some confusion. This is true for both the iOS app as well as desktop browsers. – pong Nov 1 '16 at 20:36
  • 1
    Google's behavior of using account or geolocation based locale for sheets but browser/device locale for showing its documentation is the same for mobile and web app. – pong Nov 2 '16 at 9:38

Because for most of Google's users in the U.S., commas are the correct parameter separators. It's only for places like the EU where you need to use semi-colons instead.

(I expect that it's because a comma is a decimal separator in those places, but I'm really just guessing.)

Google seems a bit inconsistent in their language-specific help pages. (See, for instance, this answer.)

  • I'm using the US locale so this is either not the root cause or google has some issues mixing up different locale settings for user accounts and documents/apps. – pong Nov 1 '16 at 15:56
  • Where are you located, then? Google might be trying to be too smart based on where your browser is reporting as your location/IP address? For what it's worth, I'm in the U.S., and commas work just fine in my functions. – ale Nov 1 '16 at 15:58
  • You're totally right - as far as I can tell! I'm from Germany, and Google tries to outsmart us. The question and answer you linked to seems to be spot-on, thanks a lot! – pong Nov 1 '16 at 16:10
  • I think that it's because the technical writer responsible of the English pages has his/her office somewhere in the US. – Rubén Nov 1 '16 at 20:27

Short answer

In general sense, the documentation isn't wrong regarding the use of comma or semicolon as function argument separators.


The separator use in function documentation varies according to the language. In example, the IF function documentation shows comma for English, and semicolon for Spanish and Italian, just to mention a couple of non-English languages.

By the other hand, on a web browser, the function argument separator for some locales could be either a comma or semicolon but it will be changed automatically accordingly to the spreadsheet locale setting. One of this locales is Mexico.

I just tested this, again, using a Chromebook and worked as I described above

Steps to reproduce

  1. Go to http://sheets.google.com/create to create a new spreadsheet . In my case this creates a spreadsheet using the Mexico locale. Additional note, I have enable the Always use functions names in English.

  2. On A1 write =AND(TRUE;FALSE), the result is FALSE

  3. On A2 write =AND(TRUE,FALSE), the result is FALSE

Considering the above, the documentation isn't wrong. Maybe we could say that it's not complete or it's not clear enough, as there isn't a note or help article about the use of comma and semicolon on Google Sheets functions.

Changing the local to Germany, the automatically change of the argument separator doesn't occur.

  • Thank you for your efforts! We agree on the fact that documentation is not wrong by itself. It's rather an issue of linking the wrong documentation to the app/doc. However, I think you misinterpreted the nature of this site by assuming that my question is already an answer/statement. From my POV, documentation was wrong because obeying to it resulted in parse errors. After I found out that I had to use semicolons contrary to the docs, I wanted to know why documentation says otherwise which led up to this exact question. Your reply explains some parts of it but not the essential question. – pong Nov 1 '16 at 22:10
  • Steps to reproduce: 1. Create a new Google account from a German IP using a browser set to German locale. 2. Create a new sheet from the latest (as of today) iOS 10 app with your phone set to US locale using a German IP 3. Check the documentation from within the app 4. Correspondingly use commas to separate parameters 5. Enjoy parse errors inside the app or in desktop browsers ;) – pong Nov 1 '16 at 22:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.