How to Return a Value Left of VLOOKUP’s Lookup Column

If you have ever tried to return a value that physically lies to the left of the lookup column, you quickly realize that this task is difficult to accomplish with the VLOOKUP function.  This is a perfect time to move beyond the VLOOKUP function and explore the INDEX and MATCH functions.

Note: depending on your version of Excel, you may have XLOOKUP as an option … more info here: https://www.excel-university.com/xlookup/

Overview

Consider the following screenshot.

20130829d

We are trying to populate the report’s CustName column.  We would like to look up the CustID from the Customers table, and return the CustName.  The problem is that in the lookup range, the CustName column lies to the left of the CustID column.  That is, the return column lies to the left of the lookup column.  VLOOKUP is a righty, can’t go left.*

And this brings us to the reason we are here, to get the hang of using the INDEX/MATCH combination to return values that lie to the left of the lookup column.  But wait, there’s more.  In addition to being able to return values to the left, this combination doesn’t suffer from another common limitation of the VLOOKUP function.  When the third argument of VLOOKUP is expressed as a static integer value, such as 3, a column inserted between the lookup column and the return column will break the function.  Since the third argument is expressed as an integer, it will not adapt to column inserts when inserted between the lookup and return columns.  The INDEX/MATCH combination does not suffer from this limitation.  Since the arguments are range references, Excel adjusts the formulas to accommodate column inserts.  Alright, enough talk, let’s get to it.

MATCH

Let’s take them one at a time.  The MATCH function returns the relative position of a list item.  If we asked Excel to MATCH “Jun” in a list of month abbreviations, it would return 6.  “Apr” would return 4.  This idea is illustrated in the screenshot below.

20130829a

The syntax of the MATCH function follows:

=MATCH(lookup_value,lookup_array,[match_type])

Where:

  • lookup_value is the value we are trying to find
  • lookup_array is where we are looking
  • [match_type] is typically 0 for exact match, but there are other choices to explore here

In our screenshot, we use the following function to return the relative position of the month name:

=MATCH(C6,B11:B22,0)

We are trying to find the relative position of our month (C6), in the list of month abbreviations (B11:B22), and zero for exact match.

Just remember, the MATCH function returns the relative position of a list item.

INDEX

The INDEX function returns the cell value from a range at a given position.  Technically, it does much more than that, but since we are just getting warmed up, let’s stick with that idea: it returns a cell value from a list at a given position.

The syntax of the INDEX function follows:

=INDEX(array, row_num, [column_num])

Where:

  • array is the range that has the value you want to return
  • row_num is the relative row position that has the value you want to return
  • [column_num] is the optional column number, useful when performing two-dimensional lookups

What we’ll do is use the INDEX function to return a cell value, and we’ll nest the MATCH function in there so that it can tell the INDEX function which row has the value we want.  Our INDEX/MATCH formula will look something like this:

=INDEX(array, MATCH(...))

Where the MATCH function figures out the row number argument.  The MATCH function returns the relative row number to the INDEX function.

Consider the screenshot below:

20130829e

We used the INDEX function to return a value from the CustName column.  For the row_num argument, we used the MATCH function to determine the relative position of the CustID within the CustID column.**

The formula used in C7 is:

=INDEX($B$16:$B$27,MATCH(B7,$C$16:$C$27,0))

Where:

  • $B$16:$B$27 is the list that contains the value we wish to return, the CustName column
  • MATCH(B7,$C$16:$C$27,0) determines the row for the INDEX function
  • Where:
  • B7 is the value we are trying to find, our CustID
  • $C$16:$C$27 is where we are looking, the CustID column
  • 0 means exact match

The INDEX/MATCH combination is quite handy, and can be used to return values that lie to the left of the lookup column.

If you want to play with these functions a bit, feel free to download the IndexMatch Excel file that was used to prepare the screenshots for this post:

IndexMatch

Notes

* There is a very creative way to have the VLOOKUP function go left, which is to use the CHOOSE function as the second argument.  Wow, when I read Richard Schollar’s post on Bill Jelen’s site, I was so impressed! Well done!

** The thing that can be often confusing for long-time VLOOKUPers is the order of the arguments.  VLOOKUP begins with the value we are trying to find. We think about the VLOOKUP function like this: go find this, comma, in here, comma, return this.  When using the INDEX/MATCH combination, the thinking reverses.  We first specify the column that has the value we wish to return.  The thinking becomes this: from this column, return this value.

 

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Jeff Lenning

I love sharing the things I've learned about Excel, and I built Excel University to help me do that. My motto is: Learn Excel. Work Faster.

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69 Comments

  1. Awais Ahmad on July 26, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Bundle of thanks……..

  2. Punamchand on August 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you very much.
    I was looking for this from many day.

    • Polymath on April 4, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      can I like this comment? same here!

  3. Angela on September 23, 2014 at 5:32 am

    Wow! Thanks a million. This help me so much and your explanation was simple enough that I understood what I was doing. Thanks again!

  4. Shiva on September 24, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Wow…. was looking for this from long time. This is great information. Thank you so much. Please share if you have advance excel details

  5. Jonathan on September 25, 2014 at 9:51 am

    That is a fantastic skill!!!!!! Millions of thanks it saves me so many works on Excel and even VBA!!!

  6. Tuyen Tran on March 21, 2015 at 1:20 am

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. didi games on April 27, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks. I was looking for this excel ‘trick’ for getting help in my data nalsyis.

  8. Lucas on June 6, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Hi all

    I have been using =IFERROR(INDEX($F$13:$F$1353, MATCH(0,COUNTIF($X$12:X12, $F$13:$F$1353), 0)),””) and it work perfectly in order to bring unique values from a column with repeated values. However I use a filter on the repeated values column “F” and when I deselect any item from the “F” filtered column I would like to have this item removed from the unique items list created. Couldn’t figure out a formula to make this work.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Kurt LeBlanc on August 17, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Hey Lucas

      I don’t know of any formula to help you accomplish that…but I do know a Query can be set up to do this and all you do is refresh it:)

      Let me know if you need help setting that up,
      Kurt LeBlanc

  9. Sandeep Bisht on June 13, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Thanks a lot!!.. Really helpful 🙂

  10. yang on June 18, 2015 at 6:54 am

    why excel cannot develop vlookup-left function? same as hlookup-up? same format of functions, right?

    • Kurt LeBlanc on July 1, 2016 at 5:56 am

      Yang,
      The INDEX() function in Excel can go left as you pointed out. It returns a value given the intersection. I recommend using MATCH() with it to make the formula versatile.

      Thanks,
      Kurt

  11. dinesh on June 25, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    good…
    Nicly explained

  12. Naveen Gupta on July 7, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    Genius…well explained , you saved my time, Thank you very much…

  13. Karl on August 3, 2015 at 3:36 am

    Wonderfully explained and has saved me so much time. Thank you very much!

  14. Kevin Fay on August 27, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Well done! One of the clearest and most concise articles on Excel I have seen.

    • jefflenning on September 3, 2015 at 6:04 am

      Thanks Kevin!

  15. kiran on September 17, 2015 at 2:17 am

    thanx, helped me solve my back column vlookup issue.

    • jefflenning on September 17, 2015 at 5:21 am

      🙂

  16. Nicole Sigaud on September 22, 2015 at 6:30 am

    Brilliant !! Thank you so much for saving me lots of frustrating hours trying t solve this “leftie-vlookup” thing!

    • jefflenning on September 24, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      🙂

  17. Danielle on November 19, 2015 at 4:13 am

    Thank you for explaining how to think in “notes **”. That made it all clear to me!

  18. MOSES OSOLIKA on December 21, 2015 at 3:07 am

    Great solution. Simple, concise, effective. Many Thanks to you

  19. Kaleigh on February 4, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you so much!!!

  20. Steve on February 5, 2016 at 3:09 am

    For those who like to do this via a custom VBA UDF function (as that’s also easier to explain to non-Excel guru’s):

    Function rev_vlookup(searchString As Variant, searchRange As Range, resultsRange As Range, Optional columnIndexInResultsRange As Integer = 1, Optional exactMatch As Boolean = False)

    rev_vlookup = Application.WorksheetFunction.Index(resultsRange, Application.WorksheetFunction.Match(searchString, searchRange, exactMatch), columnIndexInResultsRange)

    End Function

    • jefflenning on February 5, 2016 at 5:34 am

      Very cool…thanks for sharing!!

  21. Al on April 7, 2016 at 9:53 am

    How can I get it to return a list of matches beyond the first one it finds. I need it to return several matchs

    • Kurt LeBlanc on July 12, 2016 at 5:34 am

      Hi Al,

      I believe you are looking for SUMIFS(), AVERAGEIFS(), COUNTIFS()…They give you the result of every row that matches your criteria:) If you need further help, I’m happy to assist in any way I can!

      Kurt LeBlanc

  22. Sadiq on April 20, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Thanks a lot for this, Jeff. Much appreciated.

  23. Crystal Edwards on June 5, 2016 at 12:56 am

    I have this working. Now the only thing is, if the text doesn’t have a match it returns #N/A. I would like it to return a 0 when there isn’t a match. How do I do that?

    Thank you.

    • jefflenning on June 5, 2016 at 4:43 am

      You could wrap the IFERROR function around it, like this =IFERROR(INDEX(…),0)

      Thanks
      Jeff

  24. Satyajeet on August 21, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks u sir!

  25. anubha shah on September 23, 2016 at 2:50 am

    Thank u so much sir….you explained it in a very simple way..

  26. Mahavir on October 20, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    thanks good

  27. vinay on October 25, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks you So much. It is working great.

    • Kurt LeBlanc on October 26, 2016 at 7:01 am

      Very good:)

      Kurt LeBlanc

  28. Soysoi on November 4, 2016 at 7:55 am

    I need to set up a list of race practice times from fastest to slowest, reading values from a master sheet completed by the runner. There is only one practice time for each day. I have a list of times from fastest to slowest (SMALL fn). I’ve then used VLOOKUP and INDEX/MATCH to find that time (eg. fastest, 2nd fastest) on the master sheet and return the date for that race time. However, where two or more race times are the same, the same date is returned all, even though all 2 or 3 races were run on different days. I get the same outcome with both VLOOKUP and INDEX/MATCH. How can I display the unique date relating to each race time (ie. the date that is in the same row as the race time)? Grateful for any advice you can provide.

    • Kurt LeBlanc on January 4, 2017 at 10:38 am

      Hey Soysoi

      I’m not sure if I am reading this correctly, but have you tried just sorting the data by race time and date? You can apply a custom sort and sort by time and ,within each time, by date, so it gives you the earliest date first when you run the same times.

      Let me know if that helps or if I can help you further:)
      Kurt LeBlanc

  29. Scorlion on December 13, 2016 at 1:27 am

    What If I have repeated values to be lookup for. Example what if Ramsey Electronics and Digital Media, Inc has the same cust ID, it will return only 1 value. How to go about it?

  30. Dinesh Goyal on December 19, 2016 at 12:45 am

    Very Very Thanks…………….

    • Jeff Lenning on December 19, 2016 at 7:10 am

      Welcome 🙂

  31. pallavi on December 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    thanks, saves a lot of time!!

  32. Mike Spooner on March 24, 2017 at 3:06 am

    To the million thanks you have received already, let me add a zillion or two. A brilliant explanation of a very complex set of functions. It all worked first time for me and I learnt a lot in the process. Thanks very much.

    • Jeff Lenning on March 24, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      Welcome Mike…glad to help 🙂

  33. vipin on April 28, 2017 at 6:08 am

    love this formula

    • Jeff Lenning on April 28, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Me too 🙂

  34. Dattaraj Kanawade on May 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you this information of Return value v lookup

  35. Mahak on May 7, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    HI All
    I am looking for a solution to the probles as:
    I have custId and date as one column say in table 1 and in table 2 i have corresponding credit line to this column,for ex:
    TABLE 1
    Cust_id
    AP-11-2016(AP is customer identification and 11-2016 is NOV’2016)
    Now in table 2 we have credit limit column correspoding to the Cust_d ,for ex:
    Cust_id Credit_limit
    AP-11-2016 10,000
    AP-02-2017 20,000

    Now for example there is no entry for the month of (Jan’2017) in table 2 however this cust_id will be present in table 1 and we want to have that entry same credit line as of the previos month.

    How do I achieve that?

  36. Dewald on May 24, 2017 at 7:54 am

    I tried the “Choose” trick on a couple of hundred lines but it is REALLY resource intensive, seems it is only useful if you have information in a couple of lines only.

    • Jeff Lenning on May 24, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Thanks!!

  37. Sachin Kumar on June 17, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Most Helpful Example for Index and Match, Thank You,

  38. Tom de Jongh on July 15, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Thanks a lot for this post! Explained in a clear way. I already lost hours, figuring out why LOOKUP wouldn’t return my value. It did give me one, a random one. I even reinstalled excel. Only to find out LOOKUP / VLOOKUP doesn’t go to the left. Darn.

  39. Jennifer M on July 28, 2017 at 5:21 am

    This does exactly what I’ve been looking to do for the longest time! Thank you so much for posting it, and in a way that made it super easy to use!

    • Jeff Lenning on July 28, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      Welcome 🙂

  40. Connie on November 28, 2017 at 1:04 am

    I have a an excel tabulation of where i need to establish a formula for a personeel where rate is available in another tabulation but satisfying a nationality and position, can you please assist.

  41. Ian on January 12, 2018 at 6:23 am

    I like the INDEX function, but I always solved this issue using OFFSET, now I have another tool.

    Thanks

  42. William Bryant on February 27, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    This was super helpful for a difficult to search subject in Excel, thank you!

    • Jeff Lenning on March 1, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Welcome 🙂

  43. Peter on April 20, 2018 at 5:14 am

    Exactly what I was looking for, thank you for the very clear explanation.

  44. Isanka on April 27, 2018 at 12:29 am

    Thank you very much for your assistance. Actually this is great fully assisted.

  45. Claude on May 4, 2018 at 12:51 am

    Great; I were wondering how to get this; Highly appreciate.

  46. Vicky on July 22, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Question: Now that I have mastered the index/ match function may I use this to perform a bank reconciliation instead of v look up? Thanks for the help!

    • Jeff Lenning on July 23, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Yes, absolutely 🙂

  47. Fabian on August 29, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you!

  48. Matt on March 2, 2020 at 7:01 am

    Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. Took a few attempts to get it right, but after reading the explanation and break down of the formula, I got there in the end.

  49. Bruno on July 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

    Excellent! Thanks so much for the help!

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