Understanding the definition of ‘argument’ in a function or formula

The arguments are the values ​​that the functions use to perform the calculations. In spreadsheet programs like Excel and Google Sheets, functions are just built-in formulas that perform fixed calculations, and most of these functions require data to be entered, either by the user or from another source, in order to return a value. result.

Function Syntax

The syntax of a function refers to the layout of the function and includes the function name, parentheses, comma separators, and its arguments.

Arguments are always surrounded by parentheses, and individual arguments are separated by commas.

A simple example, shown in the image above, is the SUM function, which can be used to add or total long columns or rows of numbers. The syntax of this function is:

SUM (Number1, Number2, …. Number255)

The arguments for this function are: Number1, Number2, …. Number255

Number of arguments

The number of arguments a function requires varies by function. The SUM function can have up to 255 arguments, but only one is needed: the Number1 argument. The rest are optional

The OFFSET function, on the other hand, has three required and two optional arguments.

Other functions, such as the NOW and TODAY functions, take no arguments, but get their data – the serial number or the date – from the computer’s system clock. Although these functions do not require arguments, the parentheses, which are part of the function’s syntax, must be included when entering the function.

Data types in the arguments

As with the number of arguments, the data types that can be entered for an argument will vary depending on the function.

In the case of the SUM function, as shown in the image above, the arguments must contain numeric data, but this data can be:

  • the actual data being added – the Number1 argument in the image above
  • a single cell reference to the location of numeric data in the worksheet – the Number2 argument
  • an array or range of cell references – the Number3 argument

Other data types that can be used for arguments include:

  • text data
  • boolean values
  • error values
  • other functions

Nesting functions

It is common for a function to be passed as an argument to another function. This operation is known as nesting functions and is done to extend the capabilities of the program in performing complex calculations.

For example, it is not uncommon for IF functions to be nested inside one another, as shown below.

In this example, the second or nested IF function is used as the Value_if_true argument of the first IF function and is used to test a second condition, if the data in cell A2 is less than 100.

Starting with Excel 2007, 64 levels of nesting are allowed in formulas. Before that, only seven levels of nesting were supported.

How to find the arguments of a function

Two ways to find the argument requirements for individual functions are:

  • Open the function dialog in Excel
  • Tooltip windows in Excel and Google Sheets

Excel Function Dialog Boxes

The vast majority of functions in Excel have a dialog box, as shown for the SUM function in the image above, that lists the required and optional arguments for the function.

Opening a function’s dialog can be done by:

  • find and click a function name on the Formula tab of the ribbon;
  • by clicking the Insert Function option next to the formula bar, as indicated in the image above.

Tooltips: How to write the name of a function

Another way to find the arguments of a function in Excel and Google Sheets is to:

  1. Click on a cell,
  2. Enter the equals sign – to notify the program that a formula is being entered
  3. Enter the function name – as you type, the names of all functions beginning with that letter appear in a tooltip below the active cell;
  4. Enter an open parenthesis – the specified function and its arguments are listed in the tooltip.

In Excel, the ToolTip window surrounds optional arguments with square brackets ([ ]). All other arguments listed are required.

In Google Sheets, the tooltip doesn’t distinguish between required and optional arguments. Instead, it includes an example as well as a summary of the function’s use and a description of each argument.