Excel VLOOKUP to the Left Using CHOOSE

Excel VLOOKUP to the Left Using CHOOSE

A little while ago I showed you how to do a lookup to the left using the INDEX and MATCH functions.

In this Excel tutorial I’m going to show you how you can do a lookup to the left with a VLOOKUP formula together with the CHOOSE function as an alternative.

Let’s look at our data:

Excel VLOOKUP to the left with the CHOOSE Function

In this example we want to look up the Volume in column E for the date 29/01/2011 in column K. As we know, a VLOOKUP cannot go left, but with the help of the CHOOSE function we can trick it into going left.

CHOOSE Function

First of all let’s understand how the CHOOSE function works:

This is the syntax in Excel:

=CHOOSE(index_num, value1, value2, value3…..up to 254 values)

The syntax is not very useful as usual! To translate it into English:

=CHOOSE(value number 3 where, value 1 = A, value 2 = B, value 3 = C)

The result is C

Now we can get creative by specifying more than one index number with the help of curly brackets { }, and instead of specifying the values (like we did above with A, B and C) we can refer to a range of cells like this:


In English this formula reads:

= ({column 1 is K , and column 2 is E})

Effectively switching the positions of column E and K so that the VLOOKUP will think column K is to the left of column E. Clever, huh?

VLOOKUP to the Left

Now, on its own, like the example above, CHOOSE is not much use but when you use it in a VLOOKUP it enables us to trick Excel into returning the value to the left of our lookup column.

Our formula to look up date 29th January 2011 in column K and return the value in column E (column number 2) is:



=VLOOKUP(find 29/01/2011 in column K and return the value in column E)

Result 7,222,425

NOTE: when you want to reference a date in a formula you need to tell Excel it is a date using the DATE function, alternatively you can use the date’s serial value. However, I find the DATE function more intuitive and easier to follow when I revisit a formula later on. Alternatively you could reference another cell that contains the date in the correct date format.

TIP: We can make this formula a little easier to use by changing the cell range references to full column references. This will work in this instance because there is no other data in our columns other than that which is in our table.

With full column references our formula looks like this:


Download the workbook and play around with the formula to test your understanding.

In some ways I think using the CHOOSE function to trick your VLOOKUP to look left is easier than the INDEX and MATCH functions , especially if you’re more familiar with VLOOKUP.

What do you think? Do you have a preference or do you just rearrange your columns so you never have to lookup to the left? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Sastry says

    Thank you for revealing this trick. Till now, I am either creating another temp column to the right of the search column or use INDEX & MATCH combination. This certainly simplifies the work.
    Can this be used on filtered data as well? Appreciate your expert view.

    • Mynda Treacy says

      Hi Sastry,

      Great to hear you’ll be able to use this tip.

      In terms of using it on a filtered list, it won’t make any difference whether the list is filtered or not, the formula will still work. In other words, the formula ignores filtering.

      Kind regards,



    For Google-sheets it’s actually easier:

    The choose way is the only way I found it to work in excel though

  3. Raghu says

    Hi Mynda,

    I Can’t resist but to give compliments.

    The way you explain a point is like , as if you give us a, “Sweet Ripe Banana – peeled” and, what do we have to do– ‘Just Gulp it down into our Brains! ‘.

    You make it so easy to “Learn.”

    Great Mam.


  4. Wanda Ponto says

    At what point when you are writing the formula do you use CTRL + SHIFT + ENTER to insert those curly brackets?

    • Catalin Bombea says

      Hi Rajan,
      Try this:
      It will return the row number of the last duplicate value.
      This version: =LOOKUP(2,1/(COUNTIF(A1:A100,A1:A100)>1),C1:C100) will return the value from column C, corresponding to the last duplicate found on column A.

  5. Miguel says

    Hi Mynda Tracey,
    Thank you very much for your teachings. I owe you a lot!
    Learning the “Excel VLOOKUP to the left using CHOOSE”, I think instead of the comma to separate the constants inside the curly brackets (as it appeares in your description of the problem and on the download file) we should use a \ (back slash) as it appears in the result of the download file.
    Am I right

    • Mynda Treacy says

      Hi Miguel,

      In my version of Excel we use a comma to separate arguments in a formula. However there are regionalized versions of Excel that use other characters. Yours may well be a back slash instead of a comma, so if that’s what you normally use then go with that.

      For me if I download the file on my computer it will have commas separating the arguments.

      I hope that helps.


      • Miguel says

        Hi Mynda,

        In fact I’m using a Excel in english but operating in a windows, portuguese version. The commas to separate the arguments are substitutred for semicolons, but to separate the constants in the CHOOSE formula, we use a back slash.

        The formula would be like this:
        Many Thanks,


  6. Bruce says

    Very helpful and creative! Is there a way to write a formula that will return the left column results for different dates without having to painstakingly enter them in the Date formula? If you convert the dates to serial numbers like you suggested that might be my answer

    • Catalin Bombea says

      Hi Bruce,
      You can use a worksheet cell for VLOOKUP search criteria, like: =VLOOKUP(N8,CHOOSE({1,2},$K$2:$K$207,$E$2:$E$207),2,0) , in cell N8 just enter the date to search. This way you can avoid reediting the formula. If you have a column with search dates, you can copy down this formula to find the results for each date. Make sure that cell N8 is formatted as date; if it’s formatted as text, you can convert to date by using DATEVALUE(N8) in VLOOKUP formula instead of N8 reference.
      Another good thing to know: Vlookup is returning only the first match found, this means that if you have duplicates in the search column (like multiple rows for same day) , the formula will return only the value corresponding to the first match found!
      Hope it helps,

  7. yaser says

    Dear mynda
    u r great !
    i am learning a lot from ur tutorials

    i have a problem ,could u assist me ?

    if i want to look up for a specific name and return the relevant value
    if i have two columns,
    one of them is containing the brand name of the drug,
    and the other is containing the active ingredient of the same drug,

    like: scientific name is ranidine,
    the related brand name is zantac
    but the problem there are other specifications written in the columns of active ingredient like :ranidine 150 mg ,
    so if i want to look for ranidine (only) vlookup does not work bec the look up area dosent contain (ranidine only),

    so,can advise how can i solve this problem ?


      • yaser says

        thx ,mynda

        u r super !!!!
        really amzing and clever method which u gave me !!!

        however i hv other problems:

        1-if i have another column (third one )can use the same vlookup formula (column index no= 3) bec when i tryed ,does not work?
        2-the other problem ,if the returned value are more than one item,
        can I create a formula to bring all the items which contain the same/ (looking up word)?
        hope my Q. are clear.


        • Mynda Treacy says

          Hi Yaser,

          I’m not sure why it won’t return column index number 3. I presume it’s because VLOOKUP can’t find a match, but without knowing the error I can’t be sure.

          You can return multiple matches with this formula.

          Kind regards,


          • yaser says

            however i want to return the whole(mutiple) results by looking up of (part of the whole lookup field ,like the previous vlookup formula that u gave me ).

            pls advise.


          • Mynda Treacy says

            Hi Yaser,

            It’s very difficult to picture what you want. Can you please send me an example Excel file via the help desk which specific instructions on what you want and where.

            This will help me to help you.



  8. rachel says

    this is so amazing! i’ll never go to Index/Match again (which, after a couple of years, i STILL can’t get the hang of). using CHOOSE is so much easier and intuitive! thanks for this!

    • Mynda Treacy says

      :) Glad you liked it, Rachel. Although if you can force yourself to get your head around INDEX & MATCH it’ll be worth your while.

  9. Krishna R M says

    Amazing that was an awesome trick…!!! This helps particularly when we have to apply multiple vlookups with various columns and where you may have to look both left and right for different values…!!!

    After reading your website I feel we can force excel to do anything for us…!!

    The NodeXL add-in you suggested for drawing Network Chart is Just amazing….!!

  10. Ashutosh Bhatnagar says

    I want to change the dependent drop downlist as I change the drop down list of master for eg If I change the state Than it should show the store list of that state only in the dropdown. please help how can i do the same in excel.

  11. Sharon says

    Awsome! So easy to use. I didn’t experiment with your workbook, just copied the code & changed to match my data. 10/10

      • Tefo says

        Hi Myanda

        thanks for all the helpful tutorials.

        just one thing, get you give anothere example of nesting vlookup with choose function that involves something else either than a date.

        many thanks.

        • Carlo Estopia says

          Hi Tefo,

          Please clarify some more because I think it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a date or something else, this
          Vlookup with choose function will work.



  12. Ronald says

    Hi Mynda,

    Great! Is there a way for Vlookup or Match to return the nearest higher value to a lookup_value? Value returned is always the greatest value which is <= to the lookup_value where data is sorted in ascending order for the Vlookup function and in descending order for the Match function. The goal is actually to get the next lower and next higher value of a lookup_value.


    • says

      Hi Ronald,

      How about this:


      i.e. add 1 to your lookup value to make it find the next higher value. Take 1 away to find the next lower value.

      Kind regards,


      • Ajay Jangral says

        hi Ronald.

        U can try “large or small” function to get the kth higher or lower value.


  13. Sergiu says

    Very useful courses in your website.
    VLOOKUP with CHOOSE combination – good trick instead of MATCH INDEX combination.


  14. Manjeet says

    It’s awesome. Before this I was aware of trick to look-up value toward left is Index-match combination. This is far easier than that one. :) :) :)
    http://www.myonlinetraininghub.com is really a good source of learning about MS office tools, even best among all what I explore of now.

  15. Suzie Hardy says

    Thanks for this, CHOOSE works much simpler in my head than index and match, this is a very quick shortcut – love it.

  16. J. Andrew Steinbach says


    This information is exactly what i needed.

    However i am struggling to apply it to my vlookup that looks up on different worksheet, any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Current Formula looks like:

    -It searches what is in cell B5 on worksheet MAIN REPORT in column D and returns the corresponding data from column E. However the data in column E is really to the left, column C, and i must manually copy column C to column E.

    -Thanks Again

    • Carlo Estopia says

      Hi JAndrew,

      I simulated your problem:

      In MAIN REPORT ColA to ColE
      ColC – “DataFromC”
      ColD – “LookupME”

      IN your Formula-Sheet

      B5 – “LookupME”
      E5 – is the formula below.

       =VLOOKUP(B5,CHOOSE({1,2},'MAIN REPORT'!D:D,'MAIN REPORT'!C:C,2),2,0) 

      Read More on VLOOKUP with CHOOSE



        • Carlo Estopia says

          J. Andrew,

          On behalf of Mynda — actually, she wrote it and I learned it from her–
          I say you’re very much welcome.



  17. Mustafa says

    I usually like to link or import the excel list to ms access and do all these tricks even easir. And still likes to know more about excel.
    Still your site is great. Thanks.

  18. Steve says

    FYI – you can “HLOOKUP to the up” by using the same trick, but with one important change. {1,2} becomes {1;2}. (Change the comma to a semicolon!)

  19. Roger Cousins says

    Awesome… my new favourite function!
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with this. I even went so far as to create a separate worksheet with {column E, Column C} so that I could lookup the values in C. Never More.

    In what chapter of what book in what universe is Choose() explained as well as this?

  20. bob mcglynn says

    I believe that this site is one of the most open and comprehensive repository of Excel useful info i have come across in months.


  21. steve page says

    The choose formula you just showed me pulling data out from the column to the left makes much more sense to me than the index/match method. it had been awhile since i used the index/match method and when i went to use it i could remember what columns went where….lol.
    the choose method you just showed is 10x easier to remember. I use this function more than most folks and it is a lifesave. Thank you so much for sharing.

  22. Khurram Ali says

    Dear Mynda,

    Thanks a lot for keep teaching us a number of useful and creative formulas and functions in Excel.

    Please send me link to your some files/examples about using using data tables, esp. with reference to dynamic/interactive ranges/graphs.

    So kind of you,

    Khurram Ali

  23. Jason says

    I was struggling with trying to complete this exact same kind of function…. I ended up “googling” my problem and ended up at this page… I read through your instructions, applied it to my spreadsheet and it worked! Thank you so much for your help!!!

  24. Christopher Bloome says

    Hi Mynda, This is great, but for some reason, when I try this in practice, it shows me the data that is two cells below what I’m actually looking for. Any ideas where I might be messing up?



  25. says

    Excellent job and very good tutorials.
    The “English translation” is very helpful!

    I’ll include a link to this site in my blog to keep the trace and avoid missing time with other useless tutorials I found.

  26. says

    Always use match and index instead of vlookup.

    With Vlookup, if you add or delete a column, the entire spreadsheet can blow up.

    Is there a way to look in a list of cells to see if a cell matches (where the cells are NOT contiguous: something like Match($a1,{a11,b12,c13,d14},0)

    • Mynda Treacy says

      Hi Ron,

      Are you just trying to see if there is a match or locate the cell containing the match? i.e. would a TRUE or FALSE answer do? Also, are the values numeric or text?



  27. Parveen Saroha says

    Hi Mynda,
    It was very great trick…..I am very keen to learn the Excel, need your suggestions that which book or site is good…

  28. Scott Gall says

    A neat trick… I personally prefer to reorganize the columns in the first place however as it adds less calculational load.