Start a New Line Inside a Spreadsheet Cell With CTRL+Enter in Excel

Sometimes it’s necessary to have more than one line inside a worksheet cell, which is easily done with a line break.

New Line in Excel Cell (MAC)

Add a new line in Excel cell on Mac computers by holding down the Alt key while you press enter. It’s the keyboard shortcut Alt+Enter. In Excel 2008 and 2011 for Mac use Cmd+Option+Enter.

New line in Excel cell Mac

Fig. 1 – Use a Line Break in a Cell with Alt+Enter

A Potential Problem with Using Ctrl+Enter in Excel

The line break is the character code 10. While invisible to the eye in Excel, this character may create problems when exported into a database system by prematurely starting a new record every time it’s encountered.

Using Extra Spaces to Create a Line Break (Not Recommended)

I’ve seen Excel users who don’t know about this shortcut so they try and make the lines wrap inside the cell by providing extra spaces between words. Adding spaces may provide a worksheet cell that looks nice and correct, but an export will also include those extra spaces. (See the formula bar below)

New line with ctrl+enter in Excel

Fig. 2 – Use Spaces to Wrap a Line in a Cell

Another problem with adding extra spaces is that, when the column width changes it can provide an unpredictable alignment. By looking in the formula bar you can see if there’s a proper line break (fig 1) OR extra spaces that might be problematic. (fig 2)

Expanding the Formula Bar in Excel 2007 and 2010

The formula bar typically doesn’t show more than one line. In the two figures above the formula bar has been expanded. You can do this with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+U, which you’ll probably never remember, or you can select the drop-down arrow at the right side of the formula bar.

Expand Formula Bar

Formula Bar for 2003 and 2008

This keyboard shortcut doesn’t work in Excel 2008 or Excel 2008 for Mac, and there’s no drop-down arrow at the right side of the formula bar. When you encounter a cell with more than one line Excel automatically expands the formula bar. No manual intervention required.

This is why some users are stumped after upgrading to 2007 or 2010 and finding they can’t see the entire cell contents in the formula bar. I know I was. ūüôā

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15 thoughts on “Start a New Line Inside a Spreadsheet Cell With CTRL+Enter in Excel

  1. steve

    alt-enter is not giving me a line break in excel 2011, nor is Alt-return, or any combination of ctrl, shift, command keys.

    1. Gregory

      Your right. In Excel versions for Mac, 2008 and 2011, you have to hold the Control and Option keys, then press Enter. It took me awhile to figure that one out.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thang

    I just want to correct Gregory: in excel 2011 for mac, if you want to enter a new line in a cell, you need to hold both “Control” & “Command” keys & press “Return” (not “Option” key).

    1. Gregory

      In Excel 2011 Help, there’s a Keyboard Shortcut list in Help, under the category for Entering Data on a Sheet, you can find that to “Start a new line in the same cell” the keyboard shortcut is CONTROL+OPTION+RETURN which is where I got my information.

  3. Dennis

    HELP. I have a list of abbreviation & Acryonyms and the word(s) for that abbreviation.
    Can anyone help me with trying to get a new line into a formula?
    my currently formula is:
    =UPPER(B2)&”: “&B2&” is a data modeling abbreviation/acronym for “& PROPER(A2)
    “AI: ai is a data modeling abbreviation for Ab Initio”

    Examples (in 2 different columns):
    accept = acpt
    accounts payable = ar

    I need to create a title then a sentence.
    acpt is a data modeling abbreviation/acronym for Accept.
    ——new cell—————–
    ar is a data modeling abbreviation/acronym for Accounts Payable.
    ——new cell—————–

    1. Gregory

      The character code for the line feed is CHAR(13) but that won’t force a line feed in a formula. The best I can tell you now is to use your existing formula, then copy and paste as values, then go into each cell and manually use ALT+Enter to force a line feed within the cell.

      1. A.W. Marczewski

        Use vbNewLine (constant in VBA code – check Miscellaneous constants in VBA Help) – it is system dependent (different in Mac and in PC). However, it won’t work unless you set word wrapping in cell format (the same is true for line break inserted by using keyboard, e.g. Alt-Enter) – you’ll see this non-printable character as a small box (Win), with test wrapping on you get new line and no strange characters.
        Alternatively use various combinations of vbCr and vbLf to test/see what works for your system (of course text wrapping must be on), e.g. char(13) & char(10):
        function test_CrLf()
        test_CrLf = vbCr & vbLf
        end function

  4. Takioso

    I could not figure out, yet, how to produce cvs files that are suppose to contain several lines with in one value (cell).
    Actualy i usse java to export my csv-file, tat works fine, but without he ablility of giving excel 2010 the correct hint to have that certain values with new lines. Always excel thinks it would be a new row.
    I already tried using ‘\r’ instead of ‘\n’ wih in he value.
    I am workig on a Windows 7 System
    can you give a woking excample record how it is supossed to look like?

    Thanks a lot in advance and best regards


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