Excel Series: Brackets – Part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, we explored the different ways Excel uses round brackets. Excel has two other types which we will discuss today.

Types of brackets

Square brackets [ ]

  • Excel uses [] to depict references to external workbooks.
    • For example, =[Book1.xlsx]Sheet2!$A$11. This is a special indicator to Excel that it needs to look in a different workbook.
    • Should you accidentally delete them, Excel will either launch the “Open” dialog box, or else cause a #REF! error as it does not know where to look to find the reference you have provided.
    • Generally, the easiest way to ensure you keep them, is to use your mouse or keyboard to select the relevant cell (or range of cells), rather than trying to type in a cell reference.
Illustrating the use of square brackets in Excel

Curly brackets {}

  • Firstly, curly brackets are seen in certain formulas.
    • Specialized formulas, called “arrays”, use these fancy shapes.
    • They can only be added by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Enter to accept the formula.
    • For example, =B1*C1 -> Ctrl + Shift + Enter will turn into {=B1*C1}.
    • This is not a blog post about arrays, however, refer to the demonstration below that indicates how arrays could work:
illustrating the use of curly brackets in Excel
  • Refer to the article written by Microsoft on this topic for more information instead.
    • Secondly, curly (or a square) bracket, are sometimes used as a shape to group information together.
      • The process to add this shape is the same as in any other Office program.
      • Follow the following navigation:
        • Insert Ribbon
        • Illustrations Group
        • Shapes
        • Basic shapes
        • Select your preferred bracket


That’s it! Now you know how and when to use the three different types of brackets found in Excel.

We would love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

If you’d like to learn about linking to external workbooks, make sure to join our next Excel Intermediate course!