How to Use Exponents in Excel

Exponents in Excel represent one of those cases in which Excel expects to see something a bit different than we humans expect to see. Excel recognizes exponents when expressed as a Base^Power formula. To make an exponent appear so a human can readily identify it, use a superscript.

Using Base^Power

The Base^Power formula in Excel is relatively straightforward. Always proceed a Base^Power formula with an =, just like any other formula.

  • =: All Excel formulas begin with the equal sign.
  • Base: the base number. It's the 10 in 102.
  • ^: called a caret. Press Shift-6 on most keyboards.
  • Power: the power number, or exponent. It's the 2 in 102.
The formula 10-base-2 is the same as 10-squared.
The formula 10-base-2 is the same as 10-squared.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

For example, 10 to the power of 2 is =10^2. As soon as you press Enter after entering a Base^Power formula, Excel calculates the formula.

Alternatively, you can enter exponents as a POWER function by entering the base number and the exponent in parentheses . Ten-squared, for example is =POWER(10,2).

Writing Text-Based Exponents

Step

Highlight the cells that will be hosting exponents for humans to read. Click the Home menu and change the Number Format menu to Text.

Select Text from the Number Format menu.
Select Text from the Number Format menu.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Step

Type the base number, followed by the exponent, without a space. Highlight the exponent with the cursor.

Highlight the exponent.
Highlight the exponent.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Step

Click the Home tab once again, then click the Expansion Arrow in the ribbon's Font section. The Format Cells window opens.

Click the Font arrow.
Click the Font arrow.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Step

Click the Superscript option in the Format Cells window. As a superscript, the exponent is readily identified for what it is.

Select Superscript.
Select Superscript.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Step

Click OK to close the Format Cells window. The number now looks like a regular exponent. Note that text cells have small red markers in the corner to remind you that they can't be used as numbers as far as Excel is concerned. Excel treats them as if they contained a zero.

An Excel worksheet showing base^power on the right.
An Excel worksheet showing base^power on the right
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft.

Scientific Notation

When you enter a large exponent in Excel using the Base^Power formula, Excel displays it in scientific notation, as exponential notation. For example 10^100 appears as 1E+100.

Ten to the power of 100 expressed in scientific notation is 1E+100.
Ten to the power of 100 expressed in scientific notation is 1E+100.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Excel.