by Svetlana Cheusheva, updated on
When working with unstructured text data in your worksheets, you often need to parse it to retrieve relevant information. This article will teach you a few simple ways to remove any number of characters from the left or right side of a text string.
Removing first characters from a string is one of the most common tasks in Excel, and it can be accomplished with 3 different formulas.
To delete the first character from a string, you can use either the REPLACE function or a combination of RIGHT and LEN functions.
Here, we simply take 1 character from the first position and replace it with an empty string ("").
In this formula, we use the LEN function to calculate the total length of the string and subtract 1 character from it. The difference is served to RIGHT, so it extracts that many characters from the end of the string.
For example, to remove the first character from cell A2, the formulas go as follows:
=REPLACE(A2, 1, 1, "")
=RIGHT(A2, LEN(A2) - 1)
To remove leading characters from the left side of a string, you also use the REPLACE or RIGHT and LEN functions, but specify how many characters you want to delete every time:
For instance, to remove first 2 characters from the string in A2, the formulas are:
=REPLACE(A2, 1, 2, "")
=RIGHT(A2, LEN(A2) - 2)
To remove first 3 characters, the formulas take this form:
=REPLACE(A2, 1, 3, "")
=RIGHT(A2, LEN(A2) - 3)
The screenshot below shows the REPLACE formula in action. With RIGHT LEN, the results would be exactly the same.
If you don't mind using VBA in your worksheets, you can create your own user-defined function to delete characters from the beginning of a string, named RemoveFirstChars. The function's code is as simple as this:
Once the code is inserted in your workbook (the detailed instructions are here), you can remove first n characters from a given cell by using this compact and intuitive formula:
For example, to delete the first character from a string in A2, the formula in B2 is:
To strip first two characters from A3, the formula in B3 is:
To delete first three characters from A4, the formula in B4 is:
More about Using custom functions in Excel.
To remove characters from the right side of a string, you can also use native functions or create your own one.
To delete the last character in a cell, the generic formula is:
In this formula, you subtract 1 from the total string length and pass the difference to the LEFT function for it to extract that many characters from the beginning of the string.
For instance, to strip the last character from cell A2, the formula in B2 is:
=LEFT(A2, LEN(A2) - 1)
To strip off a given number of characters from the end of a cell, the generic formula is:
The logic is the same as in the above formula, and below are a couple of examples.
To remove the last 3 characters, use 3 for num_chars:
=LEFT(A2, LEN(A2) - 3)
To delete the last 5 characters, supply 5 for num_chars:
=LEFT(A2, LEN(A2) - 5)
If you'd like to have your own function for removing any number of characters from right, add this VBA code to your workbook:
The function is named RemoveLastChars and its syntax hardly needs any explanation:
To give it a field test, let's get rid of the last character in A2:
Additionally, we'll remove the last 2 characters from the right side of the string in A3:
To delete the last 3 characters from cell A4, the formula is:
As you can see in the below screenshot, our custom function works brilliantly!
In situation when you need to wipe out characters on both sides of a string, you can either run both of the above formulas sequentially or optimize the job with the help of the MID function.
Suppose you want to extract the username from a string like mailto:Sophia@gmail.com. For this, part of text needs to be removed from the beginning (mailto: - 7 characters) and from the end (@gmail.com - 11 characters).
Serve the above numbers to the formula:
=MID(A2, 7+1, LEN(A2) - (7+10))
…and the result won't keep you waiting:
To understand what's actually going on here, let's recall the syntax of the MID function, which is used to pull a substring of a certain size from the middle of the original string:
The text argument does not raise any questions - it's the source string (A2 in our case).
To get the position of the first character to extract (start_num), you add 1 to the number of chars to be stripped off from left (7+1).
To determine how many characters to return (num_chars), you calculate the total of removed characters (7 + 11) and subtract the sum from the length of the entire string: LEN(A2) - (7+10)).
Whichever of the above formulas you use, the output is always text, even when the returned value contains only numbers. To return the result as a number, either wrap the core formula in the VALUE function or perform some math operation that does not affect the result, e.g. multiply by 1 or add 0. This technique is especially useful when you want to calculate the results further.
Suppose you've removed the first character from cells A2:A6 and want to sum the resulting values. Astonishingly, a trivial SUM formula returns zero. Why's that? Obviously, because you are adding up strings, not numbers. Perform one of the below operations, and the issue is fixed!
=VALUE(REPLACE(A2, 1, 1, ""))
=RIGHT(A2, LEN(A2) - 1) * 1
=RemoveFirstChars(A2, 1) + 0
In Excel 2013 and later versions, there is one more easy way to delete the first and last characters in Excel - the Flash Fill feature.
Traditionally, the users of our Ultimate Suite can handle the task with a few clicks without having to remember a handful of various formulas.
To delete the first or last n characters from a string, this is what you need to do:
For example, to remove the first character, we configure the following option:
That's how to remove a substring from left or right in Excel. I thank you for reading and look forward to seeing you on our blog next week!
Remove first or last characters - examples (.xlsm file)
Ultimate Suite - trial version (.exe file)
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