How to compare two columns in Excel for matches and differences

Comparing columns in Excel is something that we all do once in a while. Microsoft Excel offers a number of options to compare and match data, but most of them focus on searching in one column. In this tutorial, we will explore several techniques to compare two columns in Excel and find matches and differences between them.

How to compare 2 columns in Excel row-by-row

When you do data analysis in Excel, one of the most frequent tasks is comparing data in each individual row. This task can be done by using the IF function, as demonstrated in the following examples.

Example 1. Compare two columns for matches or differences in the same row

To compare two columns in Excel row-by-row, write a usual IF formula that compares the first two cells. Enter the formula in some other column in the same row, and then copy it down to other cells by dragging the fill handle (a small square in the bottom-right corner of the selected cell). As you do this, the cursor changes to the plus sign: Copy the formula down to other cells to compare two columns in Excel.

Formula for matches

To find cells within the same row having the same content, A2 and B2 in this example, the formula is as follows:

=IF(A2=B2,"Match","")

Formula for differences

To find cells in the same row with different values, simply replace the equals sign with the non-equality sign (<>):

=IF(A2<>B2,"No match","")

Matches and differences

And of course, nothing prevents you from finding both matches and differences with a single formula:

=IF(A2=B2,"Match","No match")

Or

=IF(A2<>B2,"No match","Match")

The result may look similar to this: A formula to compare 2 columns for matches and differences in each row.

As you see, the formula handles numbers, dates, times and text strings equally well.

Tip. You can also compare two columns row-by-row using Excel Advanced Filter. Here is an example showing how to filter matches and differences between 2 columns.

Example 2. Compare two lists for case-sensitive matches in the same row

As you have probably noticed, the formulas from the previous example ignore case when comparing text values, as in row 10 in the screenshot above. If you want to find case-sensitive matches between 2 columns in each row, then use the EXACT function:

=IF(EXACT(A2, B2), "Match", "") Comparing two lists for case-sensitive matches in the same row.

To find case-sensitive differences in the same row, enter the corresponding text ("Unique" in this example) in the 3rd argument of the IF function, e.g.:

=IF(EXACT(A2, B2), "Match", "Unique")

Compare multiple columns for matches in the same row

In your Excel worksheets, multiple columns can be compared based on the following criteria:

  • Find rows with the same values in all columns (Example 1)
  • Find rows with the same values in any 2 columns (Example 2)

Example 1. Find matches in all cells within the same row

If your table has three or more columns and you want to find rows that have the same values in all cells, an IF formula with an AND statement will work a treat:

=IF(AND(A2=B2, A2=C2), "Full match", "") Finding rows that have the same values in all columns.

If your table has a lot of columns, a more elegant solution would be using the COUNTIF function:

=IF(COUNTIF($A2:$E2, $A2)=5, "Full match", "")

Where 5 is the number of columns you are comparing.

Example 2. Find matches in any two cells in the same row

If you are looking for a way to compare columns for any two or more cells with the same values within the same row, use an IF formula with an OR statement:

=IF(OR(A2=B2, B2=C2, A2=C2), "Match", "") Finding matches in any two cells in the same row.

In case there are many columns to compare, your OR statement may grow too big in size. In this case, a better solution would be adding up several COUNTIF functions. The first COUNTIF counts how many columns have the same value as in the 1st column, the second COUNTIF counts how many of the remaining columns are equal to the 2nd column, and so on. If the count is 0, the formula returns "Unique", "Match" otherwise. For example:

=IF(COUNTIF(B2:D2,A2)+COUNTIF(C2:D2,B2)+(C2=D2)=0,"Unique","Match") Compare several columns and find matches in any two cells in the same row.

How to compare two columns in Excel for matches and differences

Suppose you have 2 lists of data in Excel, and you want to find all values (numbers, dates or text strings) which are in column A but not in column B.

For this, you can embed the COUNTIF($B:$B, $A2)=0 function in IF's logical test and check if it returns zero (no match is found) or any other number (at least 1 match is found).

For instance, the following IF/COUNTIF formula searches across the entire column B for the value in cell A2. If no match is found, the formula returns "No match in B", an empty string otherwise:

=IF(COUNTIF($B:$B, $A2)=0, "No match in B", "") Compare two columns in Excel for matches.

Tip. If your table has a fixed number of rows, you can specify a certain range (e.g. $B2:$B10) rather than the entire column ($B:$B) for the formula to work faster on large data sets.

The same result can be achieved by using an IF formula with the embedded ISERROR and MATCH functions:

=IF(ISERROR(MATCH($A2,$B$2:$B$10,0)),"No match in B","")

Or, by using the following array formula (remember to press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to enter it correctly):

=IF(SUM(--($B$2:$B$10=$A2))=0, " No match in B", "")

If you want a single formula to identify both matches (duplicates) and differences (unique values), put some text for matches in the empty double quotes ("") in any of the above formulas. For example:

=IF(COUNTIF($B:$B, $A2)=0, "No match in B", "Match in B")

How to compare two lists in Excel and pull matches

Sometimes you may need not only match two columns in two different tables, but also pull matching entries from the lookup table. Microsoft Excel provides a special function for this - the VLOOKUP function. As an alternative, you can use a more powerful and versatile INDEX MATCH formula. The users of Excel 2021 and Excel 365, can accomplish the task with the XLOOKUP function.

For example, the following formulas compare the product names in columns D against the names in column A and pull a corresponding sales figure from column B if a match is found, otherwise the #N/A error is returned.

=VLOOKUP(D2, $A$2:$B$6, 2, FALSE)

=INDEX($B$2:$B$6, MATCH($D2, $A$2:$A$6, 0))

=XLOOKUP(D2, $A$2:$A$6, $B$2:$B$6) Comparing two lists and pulling matching data.

For more information, please see How to compare two columns using VLOOKUP.

If you don't feel very comfortable with formulas, you can have the job done using a fast and intuitive solution - Merge Tables Wizard.

Compare two lists and highlight matches and differences

When you compare columns in Excel, you may want to "visualize" the items that are present in one column but missing in the other. You can shade such cells in any color of your choosing by using the Excel Conditional Formatting feature and the following examples demonstrate the detailed steps.

Example 1. Highlight matches and differences in each row

To compare two columns and Excel and highlight cells in column A that have identical entries in column B in the same row, do the following:

  • Select the cells you want to highlight (you can select cells within one column or in several columns if you want to color entire rows).
  • Click Conditional formatting > New Rule… > Use a formula to determine which cells to format.
  • Create a rule with a simple formula like =$B2=$A2 (assuming that row 2 is the first row with data, not including the column header). Please double check that you use a relative row reference (without the $ sign) like in the formula above.
A conditional formatting rule to highlight matches in each row.

To highlight differences between column A and B, create a rule with this formula:

=$B2<>$A2 A conditional formatting rule to highlight differences in each row.

If you are new to Excel conditional formatting, please see How to create a formula-based conditional formatting rule for step-by-step instructions.

Example 2. Highlight unique entries in each list

Whenever you are comparing two lists in Excel, there are 3 item types that you can highlight:

  • Items that are only in the 1st list (unique)
  • Items that are only in the 2nd list (unique)
  • Items that are in both lists (duplicates) - demonstrated in the next example.

This example demonstrates how to color the items that are only in one list.

Supposing your List 1 is in column A (A2:A6) and List 2 in column C (C2:C5). You create the conditional formatting rules with the following formulas:

Highlight unique values in List 1 (column A):

=COUNTIF($C$2:$C$5, $A2)=0

Highlight unique values in List 2 (column C):

=COUNTIF($A$2:$A$6, $C2)=0

And get the following result: Comparing 2 lists and highlighting unique entries in each list.

Example 3. Highlight matches (duplicates) between 2 columns

If you closely followed the previous example, you won't have difficulties adjusting the COUNTIF formulas so that they find the matches rather than differences. All you have to do is to set the count greater than zero: Highlighting matches between 2 columns.

Highlight matches in List 1 (column A):

=COUNTIF($C$2:$C$5, $A2)>0

Highlight matches in List 2 (column C):

=COUNTIF($A$2:$A$6, $C2)>0

Highlight row differences and matches in multiple columns

When comparing values in several columns row-by-row, the quickest way to highlight matches is creating a conditional formatting rule, and the fastest way to shade differences is embracing the Go To Special feature, as demonstrated in the following examples.

Example 1. Compare multiple columns and highlight row matches

To highlight rows that have identical values in all columns, create a conditional formatting rule based on one of the following formulas:

=AND($A2=$B2, $A2=$C2)

or

=COUNTIF($A2:$C2, $A2)=3

Where A2, B2 and C2 are the top-most cells and 3 is the number of columns to compare. Highlighting rows that have the same values in several columns.

Of course, neither AND nor COUNTIF formula is limited to comparing only 3 columns, you can use similar formulas to highlight rows with the same values in 4, 5, 6 or more columns.

Example 2. Compare multiple columns and highlight row differences

To quickly highlight cells with different values in each individual row, you can use Excel's Go To Special feature.

  1. Select the range of cells you want to compare. In this example, I've selected cells A2 to C8. Select the range of cells you want to compare.

    By default, the top-most cell of the selected range is the active cell, and the cells from the other selected columns in the same row will be compared to that cell. As you can see in the screenshot above, the active cell is white while all other cells of the selected range are highlighted. In this example, the active cell is A2, so the comparison column is column A.

    To change the comparison column, use either the Tab key to navigate through selected cells from left to right, or the Enter key to move from top to bottom.

    Tip. To select non-adjacent columns, select the first column, press and hold Ctrl, and then select the other columns. The active cell will be in the last column (or in the last block of adjacent columns). To change the comparison column, use the Tab or Enter key as described above.

  2. On the Home tab, go to Editing group, and click Find & Select > Go To Special… Then select Row differences and click the OK button. Select Row differences and click the OK button.
  3. The cells whose values are different from the comparison cell in each row are colored. If you want to shade the highlighted cells in some color, simply click the Fill Color icon on the ribbon and select the color of your choosing. To shade the highlighted cells in some color, click the Fill Color icon on the ribbon.

How to compare two cells in Excel

In fact, comparing 2 cells is a particular case of comparing two columns in Excel row-by-row except that you don't have to copy the formulas down to other cells in the column.

For example, to compare cells A1 and C1, you can use the following formulas.

For matches:

=IF(A1=C1, "Match", "")

For differences:

=IF(A1<>C1, "Difference", "")

To learn a few other ways to compare cells in Excel, please see:

Formula-free way to compare two columns / lists in Excel

Now that you know Excel's offerings for comparing and matching columns, let me show you our own solution for this task. This tool is named Compare Two Tables and it is included in our Ultimate Suite.

The add-in can compare two tables or lists by any number of columns and both identify matches/differences (as we did with formulas) and highlight them (as we did with conditional formatting).

For the purpose of this article, we'll be comparing the following 2 lists to find common values that are present in both. Two lists to be compared.

To compare two lists, here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Start with clicking the Compare Tables button on the Ablebits Data tab. Compare Tables tool.
  2. Select the first column/list and click Next. In terms of the add-in, this is your Table 1. Select the first column or list to compare.
  3. Select the second column/list and click Next. In terms of the add-in, it is your Table 2, and it can reside in the same or different worksheet or even in another workbook. Select the second column to compare.
  4. Choose what kind of data to look for:
    • Duplicate values (matches) - the items that exist in both lists.
    • Unique values (differences) - the items that are present in list 1, but not in list 2.

    Since our aim is to find matches, we select the first option and click Next. Choose whether to search for matches or differences.

  5. This is the key step where you select the columns for comparison. In our case, the choice is obvious as we are only comparing 2 columns: 2000 Winners against 2021 Winners. In bigger tables, you can select several column pairs to compare by. Select the columns for comparison.
  6. In the final step, you choose how to deal with the found items and click Finish.

    A few different options are available here. For our purposes, these two are most useful:

    • Highlight with color - shades matches or differences in the selected color (like Excel conditional formatting does).
    • Identify in the Status column - inserts the Status column with the "Duplicate" or "Unique" labels (like IF formulas do).

For this example, I've decided to highlight duplicates in the following color: Highlighting duplicates.

And in a moment, got the following result: The matches are colored.

With the Status column, the result would look as follows: The matches are identified.

Tip. If the lists you are comparing are in different worksheets or workbooks, it might be helpful to view Excel sheets side by side.

This is how you compare columns in Excel for matches (duplicates) and differences (unique values). If you are interested to try this tool, you are welcome to download an evaluation version using the below link.

I thank you for reading and encourage you to check out other helpful tutorials that we have :)

Available downloads

Compare Excel Lists - examples (.xlsx file)
Ultimate Suite - trial version (.exe file)

529 comments

  1. A2 To O2 15 Cell Data Contain A Or B Or C Or D Or Nothing Student Attempt

    Actually This Regarding 10 Question Attempt From 15 But Student Maybe Answer 0 To Max 15
    I Have To Check With Maximum 10 First Attempted If More Than 10 Ignore Further
    Need Only First Attempted 10 Count Right Or Not
    A1 To Q1 Is Correct Ans Key Which Does Only From A Or B Or C Or D
    Trying From More Than 5 Months To Figure This With Gpt
    Reply Please
    If Email Me That Would Much Better

    • Student Have To Solve Max Any Any 10 Q From 15 And There Is No Limit For Solving Minimum

      First Attempted 10 Check Maximum If More Than 10 Attempted Whatever He Answers Ignore Further Counting

      Correct Count Need From First Attempted 10

    • It would be good if you could explain in detail what you want to do. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

      • Could I Send You Example Excel Sheet
        Could You Mail Me So I Reply

  2. Hello, I'm trying to find a way to write a conditional formula that "strengthens" a cell highlight based on if the number of partial text matches from different columns occur. Column A has the name "John Smith" and then there are three subsequent columns, B-D, that each has an address. I am trying to get the highlight to be a light color if only one Column has the address in "Gotham, US", and then a darker color, if two columns list "Gotham, US", and then a darker color if all three columns have "Gotham, US". I don't know if this is within the capabilities of excel or macros to automate.

  3. Hi all, any help would be greatly appreciated. My data in column A is a specified number on a chart, row B is the actual value that the number in column A represents. How would I use the number in column A on a different sheet to equal the sum from columns C, D, E etc. using the numbers from column B on the first sheet? Example...
    Column A row 1=10 Column B =324, so in essence A1=B1 but I need column F on the second sheet to sum total the numbers using the numbers from Column B when I put in the Column A equivalent. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi! Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

      • I have a chart that I am trying to use. Column A will be the psi reading Column B will be the GPM equivalent. I have a second sheet that will be my test results. In one row I will have up to 5 different entries that are psi readings. I am trying to calculate the sum of the gpm equivalent to the psi measurement input on the row on my test results sheet. So for example again I have 10 psi in A1 the equivalent in B1 is 493 gpm, A2 11psi is equal to B2 at 517 gpm, my list carries on with equivalents up to 70 psi in Column A. How can I sum the total gpm by inputting the psi equivalent? If I have 1 row with multiple psi readings. Psi1 = 10, psi2 = 11, psi3=10 which would sum up to 1503 gpm. It's a conversion chart that need to be able to input psi and have excel calculate the results for gpm. Thanks!

  4. Hi i have aging report, I HAVE COLUMn A as tenanant code (which is repeating), Column b as Charges / receipt, Column C as amount of (charge or receipt), i want to filter only the charges which have no corresponding payment or receipt.

  5. I have two columns of data, A and B. Each has 1000 rows. The goal is to compare each cell data on column A throughout column B and find exact matches of each cell in column A in column B. Then return the matching cell reference of Coulumn B

  6. If cell A2 has "Know me as well or not" and cell B2 has "but i know me as well" how to calculate percentage match between these two?

  7. Really I got correct formula excatly what I expected. Thank you so much

  8. Is there a way to compare data in one column to data in another column for mismatches and then have only the data that is different be highlighted or change the text color?

    For example:

    Col A Col B
    State Farm State Frm In this example the "a" in Col A would be highlighted or a different color text

      • Hello, would you mind sharing a VBA macro for this?
        (only parts of the text in the cell that are different between 2 columns)
        That'd very much helpful and appreciated!
        Thank you so much!

      • Would you mind sharing the VBA macro for this? It will help a lot! Thank you so so much!

  9. Hi, hoping you can answer an issue I am having. So eg. I have account numbers in column A, column B holds the users to that account number (there can be multiple users for one account) I need to pull the users of that one account into one cell…I then need to compare those results to column C (which holds the primary account user) and if it doesn’t match then return the value (user names). Is this achievable…?

  10. Selamat siang, saya memiliki 2 cell yang hampir mirip
    Cell Sumber
    A1 : Mei Jakarta 18
    A2 : Mei Jakarta

    Cell Hasil
    A3 : 18

    Apakah ada cara untuk memunculkan karakter yang tidak terduplikat di 2 atau lebih cell seperti contoh diatas?

    terima kasih banyak

  11. Hello,

    If I have a large set of data and in each column is numbers for that specific value that makes it unique how can I compare that value to any other value like it and have them match up?

    For example,

    Peaches = 23, 44, 45, 67, 69, 50, 18, 16
    Apples= 99, 44, 42, 67, 69, 40, 18, 16

    and because they have 5 values in common I would want them to be highlighted or paired together some how.
    Is this possible?

    Thank you in advance

  12. Hi,

    I would like to compare and highlight same text string from 2 column.

    Example:
    D2 SALTED DUCK EGGS
    F2 EGGS 360'S/CTN

    I want compare these two column, search and highlight same text, EGGS

    I have many rows need compare, D2 compare F2, D3 compare F3.

    How to set formula, please advise, thanks~.

  13. How I can compare only part of the text in two columns in the same row for this case:
    Column A contains abc-123
    Column B contains abc
    I want column C to get FALSE if left part of the text in column A isn't the same.

    Thank you!

  14. Thank you so much!
    I'd been looking for a formula forever, trying to figure out how to compare two columns of data (not just the corresponding rows) & have a separate column display whether one of the entries was unique to one list or not.
    Many thanks :)

  15. Hi
    Could you please help me on below query.

    In column a i have date and in column b i have date and other text.
    How can I verify column a date and column b dates. If both are same

  16. how do we find true/false when cell "A" contain the name "a b c" and cell "B" contains the name "c a b"

  17. Hi,

    Is there a way to only highlight one set of duplicate in both columns?

    If column A has the following numbers: 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25
    Then column B has the following numbers: 20, 20, 21, 22, 23, 20 & 25

    Could only (1) of the 20s in column B be highlighted leaving the other 20 un-highlighted?

    • Hi!
      If I understand the problem correctly, add another condition to the conditional formatting formula:

      =AND(COUNTIF($C$2:$C$20, $A2)>0, COUNTIF($A$2:$A2, $A2)=1)

      The second condition will allow only the first duplicate in the column to be highlighted with color.

      • Hello Alexander,

        I believe you are close to figuring out my issue. If I use my example above, from A2-A7 I have entered 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25 and from C2-C8 I have entered 20, 20, 21 22, 23, 20 & 25. After entering your formula, the first set of 20s are highlighted in cells A2 & C2 while the 20s in C3 & C7 are not highlighted - this is what I was looking for, thank you! However, the 21 in cell A3 is not highlighted while the 21 in cell C4 is highlighted. Additionally, the 24 in cell A6 is highlighted when there is not a duplicate 24 in column C.

        I am looking to review a large set of numbers in (2) columns to see if the costs from one column are reflected in the 2nd. If the costs are only in (1) column then I will know something needs to happen in my budget to bring it back to normal. However, there will likely be the same number multiple times in both columns and I need a way to show which did not get reflected in the 2nd column. Please let me know if this situation makes sense or if there is a way to share my worksheet.

        Thank you,
        Gary

        • Hi!
          I used your data and the conditional formatting formula suggested above for column A. Cells A2,A3,A4,A5 were highlighted. A6 - not highlighted.
          I don't know what conditional formatting formula you used for column C.

Post a comment



Thank you for your comment!
When posting a question, please be very clear and concise. This will help us provide a quick and relevant solution to
your query. We cannot guarantee that we will answer every question, but we'll do our best :)