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Excel Guide

Detecting and Resolving Circular References in Excel

Excel, a versatile tool for various tasks, allows users to create complex formulas and relationships. However, the inadvertent creation of circular references, where a cell refers back to itself, can lead to errors. This article guides you through the process of identifying and addressing circular references in Excel.

Understanding Circular References

A circular reference occurs when a cell refers back to itself, forming a loop. This can occur in different ways, such as a cell referencing its own formula or two cells mutually referencing each other. Even named ranges can contribute to circular references. While sometimes intentional, circular references can result in errors and need careful handling.

Causes of Circular References

Circular references in Excel arise due to the sequential calculation process of formulas. As Excel calculates formulas from left to right and top to bottom, referencing a cell before its calculation can create a loop, leading to errors.

Locating Circular References

To find circular references in Excel, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the Formulas tab on the ribbon.
  2. Click on Error Checking.
  3. Select Circular References.

Excel will scan your worksheet and display any circular references in a dialog box. Click on each one to identify its location in your worksheet.

Addressing Circular References

Once a circular reference is identified, corrective actions depend on the scenario:

  1. Circular Reference in a Formula:If a cell references itself in a formula, modify the formula to exclude the self-reference. For example, change =A1+B1 to =B1 to eliminate the circular reference.
  2. Circular Reference Between Two Cells:If two cells reference each other, break the loop by removing the reference from one of the cells. For instance, change formulas in cells A1 and B1 from:
  3. A1: =B1+5
  4. B1: =A1+5to:
  5. A1: =B1+5
  6. B1: =5
  7. Circular Reference in a Named Range:If a named range references itself, modify the named range to exclude the self-reference. For example, change MyRange: =A1:A5 to MyRange: =A1:A4 to resolve the circular reference.


While circular references can serve specific purposes, they often lead to errors. Excel provides a built-in Error Checking tool to identify circular references, allowing users to rectify them by adjusting formulas or named ranges. Careful handling ensures the efficient use of Excel without compromising data accuracy.