HLOOKUP In Excel: Everything You Need to Know

HLOOKUP is a tool that makes it easy to find the information you’re looking for without the hassle. You can search for specific data in any row of a table or spreadsheet quickly and efficiently, giving you the time to focus on more pressing issues. Using HLOOKUP in Excel can make your job just a little bit easier when using Excel.

Here, we’re going to go over everything that you need to know about the HLOOKUP function. We’ll be discussing:

Let’s get started!


HLOOKUP is a handy search function in Excel that allows you to sort through large amounts of data effortlessly. You can isolate the information that you’re interested in based on specific criteria such as dates, numerical values, and text. HLOOKUP works by searching for and retrieving values from the first row in a table. As you may have guessed, the H in HLOOKUP stands for horizontal.

​How HLOOKUP Differs from VLOOKUP

If you’re familiar with using VLOOKUP in Excel, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up the finer points of HLOOKUP. Both are search functions, but while VLOOKUP finds data on a vertical axis, HLOOKUP searches horizontally. The main reason to switch between VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP is the orientation of the data in your table or spreadsheet. If the data you’re looking at is categorized and organized along the horizontal axis, you should use HLOOKUP to find your results.

​How to Use HLOOKUP

HLOOKUP is a worksheet function, allowing you to bring up values directly on the table you’re currently using. The syntax you should use is as follows:

=HLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, row_index_num, [range_lookup])

This formula can be a little bit confusing at first glance, so let’s break it down into its basic components:

  • Lookup_value: The value that the function will search for in the first row of the table. This can be a number, text, or another cell.
  • Table_array: The range of cells you plan to search. You can either highlight cells or type in a reference to an array.
  • Row_index_num: This value is relative to the table_array that you choose. Instead of typing in a cell reference, you should type in the numeric value of where the row lies on your table. For example, you should input the first row as 1, the second row as 2, and so on.
  • Range_lookup: This is the only optional parameter when using HLOOKUP. It allows you to specify if you want Excel to search for an approximate value by typing in TRUE, or an exact value by entering FALSE. When this syntax argument is left out, the formula defaults to TRUE.

It’s best to use the FALSE range_lookup when dealing with text, as you’re looking for an exact result. This also allows you to use wildcard characters when entering your lookup_value. A question mark will let you search for any single text character, while an asterisk can match with a sequence of numbers. If you need to search for actual question marks or asterisks, you can simply add a tilde (~) before the character.

Person using excel HLOOKUP on a laptop
Image via Pixabay

​Common Problems

​While HLOOKUP can be an indispensable tool when used properly, just a single mistake in syntax can cause a major headache. If you’re having trouble getting the formula to work, don’t worry. Plenty of people have problems with Excel search functions, but they’re easy to tweak and troubleshoot so that you get the results you’re looking for. Here are some of the most common problems that Excel users face when it comes to HLOOKUP:

Results return as #N/A: Sometimes, HLOOKUP fails to find a match for a lookup_value. This is often due to the range_lookup that you use. If TRUE, an #N/A error has probably occurred because the smallest value in the lookup row is greater than the lookup_value. If false, then the error occurs because a match wasn’t found in the specified cells.

Results return as #REF!: This error generally means that the row_index_number is larger than the number of rows in your table, leaving the HLOOKUP formula without a proper reference.

Results return as #VALUE!: This error may occur because your row_index_number is less than one or nonnumeric. You may also see a #VALUE! error thanks to a typo in the [range_lookup] argument, since this parameter only recognizes TRUE or FALSE.

​Examples of Formulas

​There are plenty of useful applications for the Excel HLOOKUP function. It’s an invaluable tool in both business and at home that can help you keep track of large quantities of valuable information.

The formula is most commonly used in database maintenance, as it makes it easy to pinpoint specific points of data or information from a certain timeframe. HLOOKUP is an invaluable tool both in a business and home setting.

  • ​Get an approximate match: =HLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, row_index_num)
  • ​For an exact match: =HLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, row_index_num, FALSE)
  • ​Get the first text value: =HLOOKUP(“*”,range,1,FALSE)
  • ​Display “Not Found” in results instead of an error message: =IFNA(HLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, row_index_num, [range_lookup]), “Not Found”)
  • ​Using HLOOKUP from another workbook or spreadsheet: =HLOOKUP(lookup_value, sheetname!table_array, row_index_num, [range_lookup])

If you use a separate database in your HLOOKUP formula, it’s important to remember formatting. Worksheets with names containing spaces or non-alphabetical characters should be enclosed in single quotation marks. If you’re referencing another open workbook, you should include the name in square brackets. Closed workbooks need to have their entire path specified.


Whether you’re an Excel expert or are just getting started, search functions can help you to complete your projects on schedule. Tools such as HLOOKUP make it easy to sift through data to find the information that’s relevant to your work. You can use HLOOKUP to help streamline operations at home and in the workplace.

We hope that our tutorial has helped you to better understand the many uses of the HLOOKUP function in Excel. Following the steps we’ve laid out can save time and frustration when searching important databases.

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