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Advanced dynamic array formula techniques

Advanced dynamic array formula techniques

In the final part of this dynamic array series, we’ll look at a few advanced formula techniques.  We won’t be covering the individual functions in detail but considering how we can combine them to solve some tricky problems.  Many of these techniques have been covered briefly as examples in previous posts, but now we’ll dig deeper.

There are three key areas we’ll be covering:

  • Single formula or cascading formula methodologies
  • Useful supporting functions
  • Using # References with the union operator

These are all separate topics, but when the techniques are combined, we can achieve some amazing things.

Download the example file

I recommend you download the example file for this post.  Then you’ll be able to work along with examples and see the solution in action, plus the file will be useful for future reference.

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Download the file: 0039 Dynamic array formula techniques.xlsx

Single formula Vs. cascading formula methodology

When we write dynamic array formulas, we have some choices.  One of which is whether to write multiple cascading or single aggregated formulas.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  Let’s look at an example to understand what we’re talking about.

Here is the data we’ll be using.

Example 1 Data - Single or Cascade

The goal of this example is to get the total invoice value for each customer using the UNIQUE and SUMIFS functions.

Cascading formulas

This first option uses two separate formulas in cells E3 and F3.

Example 1 - Cascading Data in two # ranges

The formula in cell E3 is:


This formula creates a distinct list of customers, and outputs the result into the spill range starting at cell E3.  We’ve seen UNIQUE do this before in a previous post.

The formula in cell F3 is:


This is a standard SUMIFS function using the spill range of the UNIQUE function in the last argument.

The point to note here is that there are two separate formulas to achieve the final result.  The second formula relies on the spill range of the first to create its output.

Single formula

In this second scenario, we see that the same result can be created from a single formula.

Example 1 - Cascading Data in a single range

The formula in cell H3 is:


We have used CHOOSE to combine the functions into a single array.  The first column is the result of the UNIQUE and the second column is the result of the SUMIFS.  As the spill range of the UNIQUE function does not exist on the face of the worksheet, we can’t use a # reference; instead, we repeat the UNIQUE function as the last argument of the SUMIFS.

Useful supporting functions

When working with dynamic arrays, there are many functions that help us to work with arrays.  Three of the most useful are CHOOSE, INDEX, and SEQUENCE.  We’ll consider each of these in this section.


Having just looked at an example using CHOOSE, this seems like the obvious place to start.

CHOOSE can be used for array aggregation.  In the example above, we took two separate arrays and combined them into one.  As we have seen, this is useful for creating a single spill range by purposefully selecting the data to return.


INDEX is a function that can be used to reduce the output of our array function.

Look at the example below.

INDEX - Basic Example

The formula in cell G3 is:


The SORT function is applied to cells B3-E10, in descending order based on column 2.  For more examples of using SORT, check out this post.

The purpose of this example is not to demonstrate SORT, but to show how the INDEX function operates.  In our scenario, INDEX is returning rows 1, 3, 5, and 7 and columns 1 and 4 from the array.  Take note that when working with rows, the constant array is separated by semi-colons.  But when using with columns, constant arrays are separated by commas.

INDEX Vs. CHOOSE – what’s the difference?

From the examples above, INDEX and CHOOSE appear to be performing similar tasks, but if you think about it, they are actually performing the opposite to each other.  In this context, CHOOSE is aggregating columns into a single array, while INDEX tasks a single array and selects the data to retain.

Using CHOOSE to aggregate data requires us to be explicit about what we combine.  INDEX, however can be made more dynamic by using the SEQUENCE function to select which data to retain.


While SEQUENCE is a dynamic array function in its own right, it is also a great support function.  In the example above, we used the INDEX function with fixed size constant arrays.  To build more dynamic functions, we can turn to the SEQUENCE function.

Look at the example below.

INDEX SEQUENCE for dynamic range

The result is the same as the previous example, but the formula in cell J3 is:


SEQUENCE is creating an array of alternate numbers, replacing the constant array we used previously.  By using SEQUENCE, each of the arguments can be linked to a cell, which means we could easily make this select every 3rd, 4th or nth row simply by changing a single cell value.

Formula Magic with Dynamic Arrays

Of all the features available in Excel dynamic arrays provide the most power for the smallest time investment.  Yet most Excel users do not even know what they are.

Have you ever faced these spreadsheet scenarios?

  • How can I use VLOOKUP to return all the matching items, not just the first?
  • How can I sort my information using a formula, so I don’t have to keep clicking the sort button?
  • How can I quickly create unique lists of items to use with my SUMIFS calculation?
  • How can I stop copying down formulas every time my source data changes.
  • How can I build a PivotTable-like report, but using formulas so I don’t have to click refresh ever again.

Well, I’m here to give you some good news. with dynamic arrays, all these can be achieved easily 🙂

Using # references with union operator

As a final technique, let’s consider # spill references with the union operator.  In this example, we will see how we can add additional data into a spill range by using a colon (which is the union operator) between cell addresses.

Let’s suggest we have a spill range starting at cell A2, and we want to include a header row into that spill range.  We could use the following formula:


Excel understands this to be a range covering all the cells from A1 to the end of the spill range starting in A2.  It does not matter how big the A2 spill range is; it will automatically expand or retract as necessary.

To illustrate this further, I would like to cover a technique discovered by Jon Acampora in this post:

Here is the data we will be working with:

Union - Example data

In this example, we want to return the items with a count greater than 100, but also including header and total row.

First, let’s use the FILTER function to return only those items with a count greater than 100.  This is nothing tricky; we’ve seen a lot of similar examples in the FILTER part of this series.

Union Example - Filter Function

The formula in cell F4 is:


Next, let’s add column headers above the data.  In cell F3, I’ve entered Item, and in G3, I’ve entered Count.

Titles added to Union Example

Now let’s add a total row.

Include Total row above spill range

In cell F2, I’ve entered Total, and in cell G2, I’ve added the following formula:


Hopefully, you’ll notice that we are applying the techniques from the sections above.  In simple terms, this is returning the SUM of all the rows from the 2nd column of the spill range starting in F4.

The next step is to create an index number, which represents the order we wish to display the rows.

Index field added ot data

  • The formula in cell E4 is:
  • As the header row should come first, cell E3 has been given a hardcoded index of 0.
  • Then the formula in cell E2 is calculating the number of rows in the spill range plus 1.

All we have to do now is use SORTBY to create a new spill range with the data displayed in the same order of the index column.

Final sorted example

The formula in cell I2 is:


The key point to notice here are the two ranges:

  • F4#:F2 is referring to a range which is starts at cell F2 and finishes at the end of F4’s spill range.
  • E4#:E2 is the range of index values we created

The biggest issue with this technique is that the final result is not automatically formatted.

  • The header row won’t move, so we can format that using the standard tools.
  • The total row can move depending on how our data changes (i.e., if the count of Melons increases to 150, the total row will have to move down to accommodate the additional data row).  To format the total, we need to use conditional formatting with a big enough range to cover any potential growth.


Cascading spill ranges, support functions, and the union operator are all dynamic array formula techniques that we can use to make dynamic arrays even more flexible.

As you can see, the final example in this post incorporates a lot of our other formula techniques.  It is worth taking the time to understand how it works; if you master this, then you’ll be able to achieve almost anything with dynamic arrays.

This is just the start; as more users get hold of the dynamic array functions, you can be sure that more formula techniques will be discovered.  Maybe after reading this post, and understanding the concepts, it might be you 🙂

Want to learn more?

There is a lot to learn about dynamic arrays and the new functions.  Check out my other posts here to learn more:

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If you’ve found this post useful, or if you have a better approach, then please leave a comment below.

Do you need help adapting this to your needs?

I’m guessing the examples in this post didn’t exactly meet your situation.  We all use Excel differently, so it’s impossible to write a post that will meet everybody’s needs.  By taking the time to understand the techniques and principles in this post (and elsewhere on this site) you should be able to adapt it to your needs.

But, if you’re still struggling you should:

  1. Read other blogs, or watch YouTube videos on the same topic.  You will benefit much more by discovering your own solutions.
  2. Ask the ‘Excel Ninja’ in your office.  It’s amazing what things other people know.
  3. Ask a question in a forum like Mr Excel, or the Microsoft Answers Community.  Remember, the people on these forums are generally giving their time for free.  So take care to craft your question, make sure it’s clear and concise.  List all the things you’ve tried, and provide screenshots, code segments and example workbooks.
  4. Use Excel Rescue, who are my consultancy partner.   They help by providing solutions to smaller Excel problems.

What next?
Don’t go yet, there is plenty more to learn on Excel Off The Grid.  Check out the latest posts:

6 thoughts on “Advanced dynamic array formula techniques

  1. David N says:

    Mark, let me just say how much I’ve enjoyed this series. Other blogs have done various one-off and sundry examples of the new dynamic functions, but your progression through each one and how you went to that “next level” of creative use in many cases was greatly appreciated. My company still hasn’t moved us to 365 yet, but I’ve saved links to every one of these posts for when I can finally get my hands no the new functionality.

    • Excel Off The Grid says:

      Thanks David – I really appreciate that. I hope you 365 soon, as given your expertise in advanced functions, you’re in for a real treat.

  2. Richard says:

    How can I adapt the formula below further such that I only want to retain the unique values based on the sumif >130 = Alpha, without returning #n/a errors for the other unique values that dont fit my filter critera?


    Thanks, great article.

    • Excel Off The Grid says:

      Hi Richard – I’m not sure I understand the question. SUMIF > 130 = Alpha doesn’t make any sense

      In many complex scenarios I would recommend the cascade method as the complexity of the single formula is not worth the potential benefit gained.

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