How to alphabetize in Excel: sort columns and rows A-Z or Z-A

This tutorial will teach you a few quick and easy ways to put Excel in alphabetical order. It also provides solutions for non-trivial tasks, for example how to alphabetize by last name when the entries start with the first name.

Alphabetizing in Excel is as easy as ABC. Whether you are sorting an entire worksheet or selected range, vertically (a column) or horizontally (a row), ascending (A to Z) or descending (Z to A), in most cases the task can be accomplished with a button click. In some situations, however, the built-in features may stumble, but you can still figure out a way to sort by alphabetical order with formulas.

This tutorial will show you a few quick ways to alphabetize in Excel and teach how to foresee and prevent sorting problems.

How to alphabetize in Excel

Overall, there are 3 main ways to sort alphabetically in Excel: A-Z or Z-A button, the Sort feature, and filter. Below you will find the detailed guidance on each method.

How to sort a column alphabetically

The fastest way to sort alphabetically in Excel is this:

  1. Select any cell in the column you want to sort.
  2. On the Data tab, in the Sort and Filter group, click either A-Z to sort ascending or Z-A to sort descending.

Sorting a column alphabetically in Excel

The same buttons can also be accessed from Home tab > Editing group > Sort and Filter:
Another way to get to the Sort buttons in Excel

Either way, Excel will alphabetize your list instantaneously:
A column is alphabetized in a click.

Tip. After you've done soring and before you do anything else, take a close look at the results. If something looks wrong, click the Undo button to restore the original order.

Alphabetize and keep rows together

If your data set contains two or more columns, you can use the A-Z or Z-A button to put one of the columns in alphabetical order and Excel will automatically move the data in other columns, keeping the rows intact.

As you can see in the sorted table on the right, the related information in each row is kept together:
Alphabetize and keep rows intact in Excel

In some situations, mostly when just one or a few cells in the middle of your data set are selected, Excel is unsure which part of the data to sort and asks for your instructions. If you'd like to sort the entire table, leave the default Expand the selection option checked, and click Sort:
Expand the selection to sort the whole table.

Filter and alphabetize in Excel

Another quick way to sort alphabetically in Excel is to add a filter. The beauty of this method is that it's one-time setup - once the auto filter is applied, the sort options for all columns are only a mouse click away.

Adding a filter to your table is easy:

  1. Select one or several column headers.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing group, click Sort and Filter > Filter.
  3. Small drop-down arrows will appear in each of the column headers. Click the drop-down arrow for the column you want to put in alphabetical order, and select Sort A to Z:

Soring a column from A to Z

The column is alphabetized straight away, and a small upward arrow on the filter button indicates the sorting order (ascending):

Filter and alphabetize in Excel

To reverse the order, select Sort Z to A from the filter drop-down menu.

To remove the filter, simply click the Filter button again.

How to put multiple columns in alphabetical order

In case you want to alphabetize data in several columns, use the Excel Sort command, which gives more control over how your data is sorted.

As an example, let's add one more column to our table, and then arrange the entries alphabetically first by Region, and then by Name:
Sort alphabetically by multiple columns in Excel.

To have it done, please perform the following steps:

  1. Select the entire table you want to sort.

    In most cases, you can select just one cell and Excel will pick the rest of your data automatically, but this is an error-prone approach, especially when there are some gaps (blank cells) within your data.

  2. On the Data tab, in the Sort & Filter group, click the Sort
    Open the Sort dialog box.
  3. The Sort dialog box will show up with the first sorting level created for you automatically as Excel sees fit.

    In the Sort by dropdown box, select the column you want to alphabetize first, Region in our case. In the other two boxes, leave the default settings: Sort On - Cell values and Order - A to Z:
    Set up the column you want to alphabetize first.

    Tip. If the first dropdown is showing column letters instead of headings, tick off the My data has headers box.
  4. Click the Add Level button to add the next level and select the options for another column.

    In this example, the second level sorts the values in the Name column alphabetically from A to Z:
    Add a second level to sort the Name column alphabetically from A to Z.

    Tip. If you are sorting by multiple columns with the same criteria, click Copy Level instead of Add Level. In this case, you will only have to choose a different column in the first box.
  5. Add more sort levels if needed, and click OK.

Excel will sort your data in the specified order. As shown in the screenshot below, our table is arranged alphabetically exactly as it should: first by Region, and then by Name:
The table is sorted alphabetically by 2 columns.

How to sort rows alphabetically in Excel

If your data is arranged horizontally, you may want to sort it alphabetically across rows. This can also be done by using the Excel Sort feature. Here's how:

  1. Select the range you want to sort. If your table has row labels that should not be moved, be sure to leave them out.
  2. Go to the Data tab > Sort and Filter group, and click Sort:
    Sorting rows alphabetically in Excel
  3. In the Sort dialog box, click the Options...
  4. In the small Sort Options dialog that appears, select Sort left to right, and click OK to get back to the Sort
    Sort left to right in Excel.
  5. From the Sort by drop-down list, select the row number you want to alphabetize (Row 1 in this example). In the other two boxes, the default values will do just fine, so we keep them (Cell Values in the Sort on box, and A to Z in the Order box), and click OK:
    Specify how you want to sort rows.

As the result, the first row in our table is sorted in alphabetical order, and the rest of the data is rearranged accordingly, preserving all correlations between the entries:
The first row is sorted alphabetically, and the rest of the data is rearranged accordingly.

Problems with sorting alphabetically in Excel

Excel sort features are amazing, but if you are working with an imperfectly structured data, things may go terribly wrong. Here are the two common issues.

Blank or hidden columns and rows

If there are empty or hidden rows and columns within your data, and you select just one cell before clicking the sort button, only the part of your data until the first blank row and/or column will be sorted.

An easy fix is to eliminate the blanks and unhide all hidden areas before sorting. Or, select the entire table first, and then alphabetize.
In case of blank rows or columns, select the entire table first, and then alphabetize.

Unrecognizable column headers

If your column headers are formatted differently from the rest of the data, Excel is smart enough to identify them and exclude from sorting. But if the header row has no special formatting, your column headers will most likely be treated as regular entries and end up somewhere in the middle of the sorted data. To prevent this from happening, select only the data rows, and then sort.
To exclude column headers from sorting, select only the data rows, and then sort.

When using the Sort dialog box, make sure the My data has headers checkbox is selected.

How to sort alphabetically in Excel with formulas

Microsoft Excel provides a variety of features to cope with many different tasks. Many, but not all. If you are facing a challenge for which there is no built-in solution, chances are it can be accomplished with a formula. It is also true for alphabetical sorting. Below, you will find a couple of examples when alphabetical order can only be done with formulas.

How to alphabetize in Excel by last name

Since there are a few common ways to write names in English, you may sometimes find yourself in a situation when the entries start with the first name while you need to alphabetize them by the last name:
Alphabetize by last name in Excel

Excel's sort options cannot help in this case, so let's resort to formulas.

With a full name in A2, insert the following formulas in two different cells, and then copy them down the columns until the last cell with data:

In C2, extract the first name:

=LEFT(A2,SEARCH(" ",A2)-1)

In D2, pull the last name:

=RIGHT(A2,LEN(A2)-SEARCH(" ",A2,1))

And then, concatenated the parts in the reverse order separated by comma:

=D2&", "&C2

The detailed explanation of the formulas can be found here, for now let's just focus on the results:
Formulas to extract the first and last names in Excel

Since we need to alphabetize the names, not formulas, convert them to values. For this, select all the formula cells (E2:E10) and press Ctrl + C to copy them. Right-click the selected cells, click on Values under Paste Options, and press the Enter key:
Convert formulas to values.

Good, you are almost there! Now, select any cell in the resulting column, click the A to Z or Z to A button on the Data tab, and there you have it - a list alphabetized by the last name:
A list alphabetized by the last name in Excel

In case you need to revert to the original First Name Last Name format, there is a little more work for you to do:

Split the names into two parts again by using the below formulas (where E2 is a comma-separated name):

Get the first name:

=RIGHT(E2, LEN(E2) - SEARCH(" ", E2))

Get the last name:

=LEFT(E2, SEARCH(" ", E2) - 2)

And bring the two parts together:

=G2&" "&H2

Split a coma-separated name and concatenate the two parts.

Perform the formulas to values conversion one more time, and you are good to go!

The process may look a bit complex on paper, but trust me, it will take only a few minutes in your Excel. In fact, it will take even less time than reading this tutorial, let alone alphabetizing the names manually :)

How to alphabetize each row individually in Excel

In one of the previous examples we discussed how to alphabetize rows in Excel by using the Sort dialog box. In that example, we were dealing with a correlated set of data. But what if each row contains independent information? How do you alphabetize each row individually?

In case you have a reasonable number of rows, you can sort them one by one performing these steps. If you have hundreds or thousands of rows, that would be an enormous waste of time. Formulas can do the same thing much faster.

Suppose you have many rows of data that should be re-arranged alphabetically like this:

Rows that should be sorted alphabetically

To begin with, copy the row labels to another worksheet or another location in the same sheet, and then use the following array formula to put each row in alphabetical order (where B2:D2 is the first row in the source table):

=INDEX($B2:$D2, MATCH(COLUMNS($B2:B2), COUNTIF($B2:$D2, "<="&$B2:$D2), 0))

Please remember that a correct way to enter an array formula in Excel is by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Enter.
An array formula to put each row in alphabetical order

If you are not very comfortable with Excel array formulas, please following these steps to enter it correctly in your worksheet:

  1. Type the formula in the first cell (G2 in our case), and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter. As you do this, Excel will enclose the formula in {curly braces}. Do not try typing the braces manually, that won't work.
  2. Select the formula cell (G2) and drag the fill handle rightwards to copy the formula to other cells of the first row (up to cell I2 in this example).
  3. Select all the formula cells in the first row (G2:I2) and drag the fill handle downwards to copy the formula to other rows.

Important note! The above formula works with a couple of caveats: your source data should not contain empty cells or duplicate values.

If your dataset has some blanks, wrap the formula in the IFERROR function:

=IFERROR(INDEX($B2:$D2,MATCH(COLUMNS($B2:B2),COUNTIF($B2:$D2,"<="&$B2:$D2),0)), "")

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for duplicates. If you know one, please do share in comments!

How this formula works

The above formula is based on the classic INDEX MATCH combination used to perform horizontal lookup in Excel. But since we need kind of "alphabetical lookup", we have rebuilt it in this way:

COUNTIF($B2:$D2,"<="&$B2:$D2) compares all the values in the same row with each other and returns an array of their relative ranks. For example, in row 2 it returns {2,3,1}, meaning Caden is 2nd, Oliver is 3rd, and Aria is 1st. This way, we get the lookup array for the MATCH function.

COLUMNS($B2:B2) supplies the lookup value. Due to a clever use of absolute and relative references, the returned number is incremented by 1 as we go right. That is, for G2, the lookup value is 1, for H2 - 2, for I2 - 3.

MATCH searches for the lookup value calculated by COLUMNS() in the lookup array returned by COUNTIF(), and returns its relative position. For example, for G2, the lookup value is 1, which is in the 3rd position in the lookup array, so MATCH returns 3.

Finally, INDEX extracts the real value based on its relative position in the row. For G2, it fetches the 3rd value in the range B2:D2, which is Aria.

How to sort each column alphabetically in Excel

If you are dealing with independent subsets of data organized vertically in columns, you can easily tweak the above formula to alphabetize each column individually. Just replace the COLUMNS() part with ROWS, make a few column coordinates absolute and row coordinates relative and your formula is ready:


Please remember it's an array formula, which should be completed with Ctrl + Shift + Enter:
Sorting each column alphabetically in Excel

Apart from providing solutions to the tasks that are impossible to accomplished with Excel built-in sort options, formulas have one more (though disputable :) advantage - they make sorting dynamic. With inbuilt features, you will have to resort your data each time new entries are added. With formulas, you can add new data any time and the sorted lists will update automatically.

If you'd rather make your new alphabetical arrangement static, replace formulas with their results by using Paste Special > Values.

To have a closer look at the formulas discussed in this tutorial, you are welcome to download our Excel Alphabetical Order worksheet. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!

You may also be interested in:

Post a comment

Unfortunately, due to the volume of comments received we cannot guarantee that we will be able to give you a timely response. When posting a question, please be very clear and concise. We thank you for understanding!
Excel add-ins and Outlook tools -
Ultimate Suite for Excel Professionals
60+ professional tools for Excel 2016-2007 to do your daily work
Incredible product, even better tech support…AbleBits totally delivers!
Deborah Bryant
Anyone who works with Excel is sure to find their work made easier
Jackie Lee
The best spent money on software I've ever spent!
Patrick Raugh
Ablebits is a fantastic product - easy to use and so efficient.
Debra Celmer
Excel is at its best now
Annie C.
I don't know how to thank you enough for your Excel add-ins
Jennifer Morningstar
Anybody who experiences it, is bound to love it!
Kumar Nepa
AbleBits suite has really helped me when I was in a crunch!
Nelda Fink
I have enjoyed every bit of it and time am using it
Christian Onyekachi Nwosu
It's the best $100 we've ever spent!
Mike Cavanagh
I love the program, and I can't imagine using Excel without it!
Robert Madsen
One word… WOW!
Dave Brown
Love the products!
David Johnston
It is like having an expert at my shoulder helping me…
Linda Shakespeare
Your software really helps make my job easier
Jeannie C.
Thanks for a terrific product that is worth every single cent!
Dianne Young
I love your product
Brad Gibson
Sheila Blanchard