Hey Anylearners! Here’s a lesser-known topic that you should know to have a great foundation on the formulas and foundations in Excel! Most often in Excel, we use a variety of formulas and conditional formatting. Sometimes during the process of using these formulas, Cell Modes have an important role to play. These modes can determine the actions taken for different functions and vary depending on the mode. Therefore, I believe that understanding Cell Modes can greatly improve your experience in working on those spreadsheets of yours. So here’s a tutorial on Excel Cell Modes and why you should know them.

Excel Cell Modes

To begin with, within versions Excel for Microsoft 365, Excel 2019, Excel 2016, Excel 2013, Excel 2010 and Excel 2007, cell modes are a feature built in to determine an action done on a selected cell. Cell modes consist of 4 main modes:

  1. Ready mode
  2. Enter mode
  3. Edit mode
  4. Point mode
Excel Cell Modes and Why You Should Know Them

The current cell mode of a selected cell can be determined by observing the bottom-left corner of the window, as shown in the screenshot above. The default state in a new sheet would be in Ready mode. This is the status bar in the Excel interface. If the cell mode is not displayed, right-clicking the status bar should bring up a list of options to customize it. Select Cell Mode to show the current cell mode of a cell.

Excel Cell Modes and Why You Should Know Them

1. Ready Mode

Excel Cell Modes and Why You Should Know Them

This is the normal, default state of any cell. When a selected cell is indicated as Ready, this means that the cell is ready for any user input. This usually occurs when some characteristics meet these conditions:

  • Cell is not edited and no data is being inputted
  • Conditional Formatting formula is not edited
  • Defined Name is edited
  • Chart series are not edited

How I would I interpret cells in Ready mode? They basically represent cells that have simply no action taken against them, in terms of data input. Basically they are what you encounter most of the time, when there is not editing done within-cell.

2. Enter Mode

Excel Cell Modes and Why You Should Know Them

Here is our first input mode among the four types. The enter mode indicates that a user is currently inputting some data into a cell.

How to activate Enter mode:

  • Double-click a selected cell or pressing the F2 key twice.

How to toggle between the Enter and Edit modes:

  1. Select cell to switch modes
  2. Press the F2 Key

One unique use of the Enter mode that is not offered in other cell modes is the navigation of the selected cell.

For example, if a cell such as A2 is selected, and I navigate the selection by pressing the various arrow keys, the cell A2 will no longer be the selected cell. Instead, the selection box will shift its selection focus according to the direction arrow keys I press.

However, although this might be complicated when explained, it is a rather intuitive process that’s in-built and you might never have even noticed! Are you starting to understand what the importance of understanding cell modes is? If you are still unconvinced, allow me to elaborate more on the other modes.

3. Edit Mode

Excel Cell Modes and Why You Should Know Them

The Edit mode may sound like too much of a generic term, but I assure you it has some specific functions to it. This mode indicates any form of in-cell editing. You can also disable Edit mode upon user preference. However, I would recommend leaving this enabled to prevent any further complications.

One major difference the Edit mode has from the Enter mode is that outcome when the arrow direction keys are pressed. When the direction keys are pressed while Edit mode is activated, the typing cursor moves accordingly within the cell. The focus on the selected cell does not move or change like that in the Enter mode. Therefore, the up and down directional keys do not have any outcomes while in Edit mode.

In summary, Edit mode affects edits within the cell while Enter mode affects the cell selection outside of the cell.

How to activate or toggle Edit mode

  • Press the F2 key on any cell OR
  • Double-clicking a filled cell (one that contains data)

4. Point Mode

The Point mode is usually used to indicate the formula cell selections. This means that when a cell enters this mode, any selections would be considered as cells used in a particular formula.

The screenshot example shown below shows a dotted line box when the arrow keys are pressed when in Point mode. This allows us to navigate the selection box to indicate a certain cell or range, for the purposes of creating a formula.

This is probably one of the least-known modes of the four cell modes. Due to its intuitive use, most overlook that the selection has changed into a separate mode where arrow keys do not shift the original selection cell. If this causes confusion to you, you can press the ESC or escape key to exit the Point mode.

Why should I know about Cell Modes?

Firstly, cell modes provide a basic foundation of how we interact with the cells in Excel. For example, when inputting data into a cell, an intention to edit within a cell may result in the cell selection moving around between cells. Not understanding the difference between the Enter and Edit modes can lead to frustration and affect your work efficiency. With simple but proper knowledge, you would know that all it takes to toggle between the two modes is just a press of the F2 key!

Secondly, knowing the cell modes in relation to your interactions with Excel will help you in troubleshooting simple problems. This extra knowledge can give you a great foundation to work with when ruling out errors systematically. With basic understanding, additional knowledge can help form a great base for more technical aspects of Excel.

Thirdly, with the knowledge of switching between cell modes quickly, you can make quick edits in-cell using the F2 key, saving some time from using the mouse to select the text in the formula bars. Most Excel users do not know this aspect in detail and work with typing formulas at only the formula bar. When activating the Edit mode, in-cell formulas can be typed all within the selected cell box.


To wrap things up, cell modes are already an intuitive part of your Excel experience. With the added detailed knowledge of how cell modes work and how they are related, you too can be a power Excel user, saving potential frustrations and hours of time working at a simple problem.

For most working professionals and even students, time spent staring at a worksheet can be draining, so having that extra time saved from understanding cell modes can take you a long way as more complicated problems come your way.

I hope this introduction to the various Excel cell modes has helped you in some way for the development and learning of your professional skills! Building a solid foundation of core concepts in Excel is an excellent way to start levelling-up your analytical skills. Your future self would thank you for putting in the time to understand this better.

Thanks for reading this tutorial on Excel cell modes and why you should know them!

For more on Excel, visit the Excel archive.

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