Google Sheets QUERY function: a spreadsheet cure-all you have yet to discover

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may remember QUERY function for Google Sheets. I mentioned it as a possible solution for a couple of cases. But those are far from enough to uncover its full potential. Today, it's high time we get to know this spreadsheets superhero properly. And guess what — one equally noteworthy tool will also be there :)

Did you know that Google Sheets QUERY function is considered to be the most powerful one in spreadsheets? Its peculiar syntax favours tens of different operations. Let's try and break its parts down to learn them once and for all, shall we?

Syntax of Google Sheets QUERY function

At first glance, Google Sheets QUERY is just another function with 1 optional and 2 required arguments:

=QUERY(data, query, [headers])
  • data is the range to process. Required. Everything is crystal clear here.
    Note. Only one small reminder here established by Google: each column should contain one type of data: textual, or numeric, or boolean. If there are different types, QUERY will work with the one that occurs the most. Other types will be considered as empty cells. Strange, but keep that in mind.
  • query is the way to process the data. Required. This is where all the fun begins. Google Sheets QUERY function uses a special language for this argument: Google Visualization API Query Language. It's written in a way similar to SQL. Basically, it's a set of special clauses (commands) used to tell the function what to do: select, group by, limit, etc.
    Note. The entire argument must be enclosed in double-quotes. Values, in their turn, should be wrapped in quotation marks.
  • headers is optional for when you need to indicate the number of header rows in your data. Omit the argument (as I do below), and Google Sheets QUERY will assume it based on the contents of your table.

Now let's dig deeper into the clauses and whatever they do.

Clauses used in Google Sheets QUERY formulas

Query language consists of 10 clauses. They may frighten at first glance, especially if you're not familiar with SQL. But I promise, once you get to know them, you will get a powerful spreadsheet weapon at your disposal.

I'm going to cover each clause and provide formula examples using this list of imaginary students and their paper subjects:
Different types of data for the QUERY function.
Yep, I'm one of those weirdos who think Pluto should be a planet :)

Tip. Several clauses can be used within one Google Sheets QUERY function. If you nest them all, make sure to follow the order of their appearance in this article.

Select (all or specific columns)

The very first clause — select — is used to tell what columns you need to return with Google Sheets QUERY from another sheet or table.

Example 1. Select all columns

To fetch each and every column, use select with an asterisk — select *

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select *")

Select all columns.

Tip. If you omit the select parameter, Google Sheets QUERY will return all columns by default:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11)

Example 2. Select specific columns

To pull only certain columns, list them after the select clause:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11, "select A,B,C")

Return specific columns only.

Tip. The columns of interest will be copied in the same order you mention them in the formula:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11, "select C,B,A")

Return certain columns in another order.

Google Sheets QUERY — Where clause

Google Sheets QUERY where is used to set the conditions towards the data you want to get. In other words, it acts as a filter.

If you use this clause, QUERY function for Google Sheets will search columns for values that meet your conditions and fetch all matches back to you.

Tip. Where can function without the select clause.

As usual, to specify conditions, there are sets of special operators for you:

  • simple comparison operators (for numeric values): =, <>, >, >=, <, <=
  • complex comparison operators (for strings): contains, starts with, ends with, matches, != (doesn't match / doesn't equal to), like.
  • logical operators to combine several conditions: and, or, not.
  • operators for blank / not empty: is null, is not null.
Tip. If you're upset or worried about having to deal with such a huge number of operators again, we feel you. Our Multiple Vlookup Matches will find all matches and build QUERY formulas in Google Sheets for you if necessary.

Let's see how these operators behave in formulas.

Example 1. Where with numbers

I will add where to my Google Sheets QUERY from above to get the info on those planets that have more than 10 moons:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,F where F>=10")

Select columns based on the condition for numbers.

Tip. I also mentioned column F to fetch just to make sure the criterion is met. But it's completely optional. You don't have to include columns with conditions into the result:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C where F>=10")

Example 2. Where with text strings

  • I want to see all rows where the grade is either F or F+. I will use the contains operator for that:

    =QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G contains 'F'")

    Select columns based on text.

    Note. Don't forget to surround your text with quotation marks.
  • To get all rows with F only, just replace contains with an equal sign (=):

    =QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G='F'")

  • To check the papers that are yet to be delivered (where the grade is missing), check column G for blanks:

    =QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G is null'")

Example 3. Where with dates

Guess what: Google Sheets QUERY has even managed to tame dates!

Since spreadsheets store dates as serial numbers, usually, you have to resort to the help of special functions like DATE or DATEVALUE, YEAR, MONTH, TIME, etc.

But QUERY has found its way around dates. To enter them properly, simply type the word date and then add the date itself formatted as yyyy-mm-dd: date '2020-01-01'

Here's my formula to get all rows with a Speech date before 1 Jan 2020:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C where B<date '2020-01-01'")

Select columns based on a certain date.

Example 4. Combine several conditions

To use a certain period of time as a criterion, you will need to combine two conditions.

Let's try and retrieve those papers that were delivered in Autumn, 2019. The first criteria should be a date on or after 1 September 2019, the second — on or before 30 November 2019:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C where B>=date '2019-09-01' and B<=date '2019-11-30'")

Combine several conditions with AND logic.
Or, I can select papers based on these parameters:

  • before 31 December 2019 (B<date '2019-12-31')
  • have either A or A+ as a grade (G contains 'A')
  • or B/B+ (G contains 'B')

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where B<date '2019-12-31' and G contains 'A' or G contains 'B'")

Use AND and OR logic operators in the Google Sheets QUERY When clause.

Tip. If your head is about to explode already, don't give up just yet. There's a tool that is perfectly capable to build all these formulas for you, no matter the number of criteria. Jump right to the end of the article to get to know it.

Google Sheets QUERY — Group By

Google Sheets QUERY group by command is used to concatenate rows. However, you should use some aggregate functions in order to summarize them.

Note. Group by must always follow the select clause.

Unfortunately, there's nothing to group in my table as there are no recurring values. So let me adjust it a bit.

Suppose, all the papers are to be prepared by 3 students only. I can find the highest grade each student got. But since they are letters, it is the MIN function I should apply to column G:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,min(G) group by A")

Note. If you don't use an aggregate function with any column in the select clause (column A in my example), you must duplicate them all in the group by clause.

Group rows using QUERY function in Google Sheets.

Google Sheets QUERY — Pivot

Google Sheets QUERY pivot clause works the other way around, if I may say so. It transposes data from one column to a row with new columns, grouping other values accordingly.

For those of you dealing with dates, it can be a real discovery. You'll be able to get a quick glance at all the distinct years from that source column.

Note. When it comes to pivot, every column used in the select clause should be covered with an aggregate function. Else, it should be mentioned in the group by command following your pivot.

Remember, my table now mentions only 3 students. I'm going to make the function tell me how many reports each student made:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select count(G) pivot A")

Use the pivot clause to produce another table.

Google Sheets QUERY — Order By

This one is pretty easy :) It is used to sort the outcome by the values in certain columns.

Tip. All previous clauses are optional when using order by. I use select to return fewer columns for demonstration purposes.

Let's go back to my original table and sort reports by speech date.

This next Google Sheets QUERY formula will get me columns A, B and C, but at the same time will sort them by date in column B:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C order by B")

Get the data sorted by a certain column.

Limit

What if I told you, you don't have to bring each and every row into the result? What if I told you that Google Sheets QUERY can pull only a certain amount of the first matches it finds?

Well, the limit clause is designed to help you with that. It limits the number of rows to return by the given number.

Tip. Feel free to use limit without other previous clauses.

This formula will show the first 5 rows where the column with grades contains a mark (is not empty):

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G is not null limit 5")

Pull a specific number of rows from the beginning.

Offset

This clause is kind of opposite to the previous one. While limit gets you the number of rows you specify, offset skips them, retrieving the rest.

Tip. Offset also doesn't require any other clauses.

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G is not null offset 5")

Skip rows at the beginning using <em>offset</em>.
If you try and use both limit and offset, the following will happen:

  1. Offset will skip rows at the beginning.
  2. Limit will return a number of the following rows.

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C,G where G is not null limit 3 offset 3")

Out of 11 rows of data (the first one is a header and QUERY function in Google Sheets does a nice job understanding that), offset skips the first 3 rows. Limit returns 3 next rows (starting from the 4th one):
Use both limit and offset in Google Sheets QUERY.

Google Sheets QUERY — Label

Google Sheets QUERY label command lets you change header names of the columns.

Tip. Other clauses are optional for label as well.

Put the label first, followed by the column ID and a new name. If you rename few columns, separate each new pair of column-label by a comma:

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C label A 'Name', B 'Date'")

Rename columns using Google Sheets QUERY label clause.

Format

The format clause makes it possible to alter the format of all values in a column. For that, you will need a pattern standing behind the desired format.

Tip. The format clause can also play solo in the Google Sheets QUERY.

=QUERY(Papers!A1:G11,"select A,B,C limit 3 format B 'mm-dd, yyyy, ddd'")

Format values right through QUERY function in Google Sheets.

Tip. I mentioned some date formats for Google Sheets QUERY in this blog post. Other formats can be taken directly from spreadsheets: Format > Number > More Formats > Custom number format.

Options

This one is used to set some additional settings for the outcome data.

For example, such command as no_values will return formatted cells only.

The quickest way to build QUERY formulas — Multiple Vlookup Matches

However powerful the QUERY function in Google Sheets is, it may require a learning curve to get ahold of. It's one thing to illustrate each clause separately on a small table, and completely another to try and build everything correctly with a few clauses and a much bigger table.

That's why we decided to dress Google Sheets QUERY up in a user-friendly interface and make it the add-on.

Why Multiple VLOOKUP Matches is better than formulas?

Well, with the add-on there's absolutely no need to:

  • figure out anything about those clauses. It's really easy to create lots of complex conditions in the add-on: as many as you need despite their order to fetch as many matches as you need.
    Note. At the moment, the following clauses were incorporated into the tool: select, where, limit, and offset. If your task requires other clauses as well, please comment below — perhaps, you'll help us improve ;)
  • know how to enter operators: just pick the one from a drop-down list.
  • puzzle over the correct way to enter date and time. The add-on lets you enter them as you used to based on your spreadsheet locale.
    Tip. There's always a hint available in the tool with examples of different data types.

As a bonus, you'll be able to:

  • preview both the result and the formula
  • make quick adjustments to your criteria
  • select a place for the result
  • insert the result as both QUERY formula or as values

I'm not kidding, see for yourself. Though this GIF was sped up, it took me less than a minute to fine-tune all criteria and get the result:
Have Multiple VLOOKUP Matches create Google Sheets QUERY formulas for you.
If you're curious enough, jump to this detailed video showing how the add-on works.

I hope you will give the add-on a chance and get it from G Suite Marketplace. Don't be shy and share your feedback, especially if there's something about it you don't like.

Also, feel free to check out its tutorial page or home page.

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