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 Implicit intersection
• Excel interprets non-array formulas that refer to ranges using a technique called “implicit intersection”
• If the formula is an array formula, the interpretation proceeds normally
• Otherwise Excel retrieves the value of the leftmost (topmost) cell in the independent range that’s in the same row (column) as the dependent cell
• If there is no such cell, a #VALUE! error occurs

Demonstration

The third bullet above is a concise explanation of how implicit intersection works. It sounds simple enough, but when you actually try to understand it for the first time, it can be a mind-full. So give yourself some time to get it straight. Study the examples carefully.

In the sketch at the right, suppose that the formula of the cell outlined with a heavy border contains a reference to the range highlighted in yellow. If the formula isn’t an array formula, the value returned will be the value of the green cell, at the intersection of the yellow range and the blue range.

Implicit intersection also works across sheets. When you refer to a range on another sheet, Excel retrieves the value it would have retrieved if the dependent cell were at its own cell address on the same sheet as the range referred to.

It doesn’t matter whether the reference is an explicit cell reference or a reference through a name. The result of a reference through a name is the same as the result of a reference through the definition of that name.

Understanding Implicit Intersection

Implicit Intersection is one of the most underrated — and at the same time one of the most powerful — techniques in all of Excel. Yet few people truly understand it.

Implicit Intersection is the method by which one cell can retrieve a value from another range by examining the intersection of its row (or column) with that range. If the intersection is unique — a single-cell — then the formula of the cell that depends on implicit intersection can update its value without incident. If not, an error results.

Terminology for Worksheet Functions

When talking about worksheet functions, it’s important to be careful about your choice of terminology. Technology is like that, and like it or not, Excel is a piece of technology.

Cells can have formulas, as we’ve seen, and those formulas can invoke worksheet functions. Cells do not contain functions — rather, they can contain formulas, which, in turn, can invoke one or more worksheet functions.

User-defined names are not functions.

To invoke a worksheet function in the context of a cell formula, one calls a worksheet function. Often, you hear this described as “applying a worksheet function.” Do not use that terminology. For example, we’ll speak of “calling a function on its arguments,” or “calling a function with its arguments.” We do not say that we “apply a function to its arguments.”

When Excel calculates the value of a cell, and that cell’s formula contains a call to a worksheet function, that function call is evaluated. Its value is then returned to the formula, which uses it, in turn, to compute its own value.

Sometimes you hear worksheet functions referred to as commands. They aren’t commands. Commands are found on Excel’s menus, or perhaps in some dialog boxes. Commands do things, like format a cell, or sort a range. Commands don’t return values — functions return values.