What does it do?

It returns the first character or characters in a text string, based on the number of characters you specify.

Formula breakdown:

=LEFT(text, [num_chars])

What it means:

=LEFT(look in this cell, extract X characters)

There are times when you will need to extract the first few characters of text within a cell, e.g. From a serial number, part number, name, phone number etc.

The LEFT formula in Excel can help you parse and extract the needed text easily.

In our example below, we have a Part # which has 10 characters and we want to extract all the characters before the hyphen “-“.

I explain how you can do this and please go to the bottom of the page to see the animated gif tutorial:



STEP 1: We need to enter the Left function next to the cell that we want to extract the data from:



STEP 2: The Left arguments:


Which text do we want to extract the first X characters from?

Reference the cell that contains the text or value:


1st argument



How many characters do we want to extract from cell C9?

Enter a positive number only:

=LEFT(C9, 8)

2nd argument


STEP 3: Do the same for the rest of the cells by dragging the LEFT formula all the way down using the left mouse button.

Notice all of the first 8 characters in each text are now extracted:

Left 03



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