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If you have ever used the VLOOKUP function within Excel before and tried the “Approximate Match” type then you will have realised that this is about as useful as a chocolate tea cup. Below shows how you can easily and quickly perform a VLOOKUP using a partial match on the look up value.

For those of you who just want the answer quickly then here is the formula to VLOOKUP on a partial match;


=VLOOKUP(CONCATENATE(“*”, A2, “*”), ‘Tab2’!$A$2:$A$100, 1, FALSE)


So what does all of that mean?

The VLOOKUP formula is described as


=VLOOKUP({lookup this value or string}, {within this range of data}, {bring back this column number}, {TRUE (approximate match) or FALSE (exact match)}


So as an example if you have the following data to play around with;


Tab 1

Cell A2: “Jim”


Tab 2

Cell A2: “Jim Bob”


Then if you run the formula “=VLOOKUP(A2,  ‘Tab2’!$A$2:$A$100), 1, FALSE)” which is aiming to find the string “Jim” within the range of data in the second tab with an exact match. Since this doesn’t exist within the range of data in its exact form then this will return “#N/A” as the result since it cannot be found.

If you try the exact same method but use a partial match instead then you could get any number of results returned depending on the size of the range of data you are working with. I am not going to cover the details about why the partial match on VLOOKUPs using “True” as the match type is a waste of time in this blog post, just trust me – it is awful, I have never found a reason why this would exist (I’m sure they may be some reason, I just haven’t ever found a use for it!).


VLOOKUP Partial Match

So if you want to look up a partial match which doesn’t use the “Approximate Match” type then you need to do a bit of clever excel magic.

In this instance the * character represents a wildcard which means that when Excel is looking up the value it uses the lookup for a partial match yet still follows the strict criteria of the “Exact Match” type of the VLOOKUP formula.

Let me explain that in a little more detail.

So here is the original formula again;


=VLOOKUP(CONCATENATE(“*”, A2, “*”), ‘Tab2’!$A$2:$A$100, 1, FALSE)


What this formula is saying is as follows;

  • CONCATENATE(“*”, A2, “*”): Add an * at the start and end of the value which is being looked up, in this case cell A2
  • =VLOOKUP(…{above formula}…): Look up this value
  • ‘Tab2’!$A$2:$A$100: Lookup the original value within this range of data
  • 1: Bring back this column of data when the item is found
  • FALSE: Still use the “Exact Match” type as part of the VLOOKUP function


So it really is as simple as that to look up a partial match on a row of data


Alternative Uses

Alternative uses when you want to perform a partial match look up could be if you wanted to count the number of times where a certain piece of text was occurring within a range of data as follows;


Tab 1

A2: Jim Bob

A3: Jimmy

A4: Bob

A5: Jimmy Mallet


Then if you performed the following formula on the above range of data;


=IF(COUNTIF(A2:A5,CONCATENATE(“*”, “Jim”, “*”))>0,”Yes”,”No”)


Then this would count the number of cells which contain the word “Jim” within the range of data, in this case 3. In the example above it simply outputs a “Yes” or a “No” if there is at least one occurrence of the word within the range of data, although if you would like the exact figure then you can simply strip that part of the formula out which would become;


=COUNTIF(A1:A4,CONCATENATE(“*”, “Jim”, “*”))


A few nice quick Excel tips to help with looking up values in Excel using partial matches.


Previous Comments

34 thoughts on “How to VLOOKUP Using Partial Match”

  1. I knew TRUE was a waste of time! I’ve tried to implement it to be useful for this purpose so many times, but it’s completely useless!!!

    Thank you so much for this!

    You probably could add the point that you can leave the wildcard off either side if you know that the string you’re looking for is a prefix or suffix to the data in the table_array (i.e. the start of a postal code etc.).

  2. This solved my problem well where the middle part is text but it doesn’t work with numbers. For example in my specific case one of the partial numbers I want to look up is 50001 and the target value in the search range is 50001.801. Using *50001* returns #N/A
    I have a mixture of text and numbers so I need a solution that deals with both. Any suggestions?

  3. Further investigation into my problem reveals that in order for the partial lookup to work it’s not the value being looked up that needs to be text it is in fact the look up range. I have used “text to columns” to convert the numbers to text and now the partial lookup works perfectly for both numbers AND text so my problem is solved in a round about way. To save the extra step it would be nice to have a formula that deals with both if you know the answer!

    1. Hi Bob,

      Yes I see the problem and solution. I’ve had a play around with doing all of this in a single formula although haven’t managed to get that working yet. This is the inherent problem when working in Excel for things like this. It’s good up until a point, whereby an SQL database would be better as it is more flexible. There is the TEXT() formula, although this still stores the data as a ‘number’ and not as a ‘string’, it simply changes the visual formatting of the text opposed to actually changing the type of content that it is stored as.

      If you do find a solution to this, do pop back and let me know though


  4. Hi,

    Thanks for this! Is there any way to tweak the formula so it searches on part of what is in cell A?

    E.G. in Cell A1 I have a text string like BXXXX-1XX-XX

    What I want to search for in the range is anything that matches only the BXXXX part and disregards the remainder of the value in Cell A1, and returns the value of column 3 in the range.Do you know if this is possible?



    1. Hi Babs,

      Yes this is possible. Rather than trying to do all of this in one mammoth formula (which is possible if you like), it may be easier to split the lookup column based on the ‘-‘, then you can simply lookup that column instead which will be the first bit you are looking for. A VLOOKUP will return the whole cell, so while the lookup on a mammoth formula would work, it would still return the whole contents of the cell where the result has been found.

      Hope that helps

  5. I was looking for just this very thing! I went down a number of pathways, but your answer was very simple and elegant….I studied math in college and I appreciate a simple and elegant answer. In particular, your CONCATENATE(“*”,A2,”*”) really helped me out. I needed a way to embed the actual cell reference within the wildcards. Great job and thanks!

  6. Michael,
    i’m trying to work this backward. IE. I have a list with “Jim Bob (12234)” and need to lookup Jim Bob in the longer list. Limiting the # of characters from left to right will help but some first_last name combos are much longer than others. If i restrict it to 7 characters to work for “Jim bob” it will find him, but it will pull all of the instances of Rachael regardless of last name. is there a way to capture everything up to a certian character… ie “(”

    1. You could use the MID function along with FIND which would replace the static lookup value. See here for an idea for how to use – “How To Get The Domain Name From a URL in Excel”,

      That said, the above solution isn’t that great. What I’d recommend is to split out your data using the Text to Columns button in the Excel navigation and structure your data better. I.e. 3 columns, First Name, Surname, Customer ID. Then you can look things up better.

  7. I have a master class list that I am creating that will contain columns for Group #, Day (there will be three different training days), Date, Location, Time, and Instructor. I want to be able to list multiple groups in the group numbers column. My goal is on subsequent worksheets have the groups class information reorganized based on there number and which day of the series the class is. So the columns would look like Group #, Day 1- Date, Day 1-Location, Day 1-Time, Day 2- Date, Day 2-Location, Day 2-Time, Day 3- Date, Day 3-Location, Day 3-Time.

    The reason this is so complicated and important to be able to break it down is that different groups will be combined in different days of the class. Example on day one 5/22 it might be groups 1, 2,3 but on day two for group 2 they might be joined by 5 & 6 and day three might be even different combos. I need to be able to say group 2 here are your three days in an easy way.

    Thank you.

    1. If you need to look up data which could be in multiple columns this is difficult as the VLOOKUP formula looks at the first column and brings back any column you choose once this data has been found. I’d suggest re-organising your initial lookup master list so that it just has something like; Group Number | Day | Date | Location | Time | Instructor. Then for anyone in “Group 1” (i.e. the lookup value) then you can pull all of the required information where ever you like.

      1. I have it organized similar to what you suggest but in the Group Number box there is multiple groups. I need it to search in the array of those group values to find a specific group. Once if finds those values I want it to populate the list on a different page.

        1. If you want ‘something’ to run through same data, then populate this data into another Sheet then you need to be using Visual Basic to run a script to do this. Formulas are used to pull data into a specific cell or range of cells. To push data into ‘somewhere’ (a Sheet or a Cell) then you need to be using VB to do this which is fun to work with.

          Depending on the scale of your application, maybe it would be worth looking at a real database solution such as MySQL?

  8. I need to use partial search, but in vice a versa way.
    I have in Tab 1 general data (column A product type; column B price; column C category):
    product type price category
    456389 600 a
    4A578964 500 b
    35289 700 b

    and in Tab 2 list of products
    How could I get price and category behind each product in Tab 2?

    1. Just use a normal VLOOKUP on Sheet 2, columns B and C;

      B2 (Price)…….=VLOOKUP(Sheet1!A2, Sheet2!A2:B2, 2, false)
      C2 (Category)….=VLOOKUP(Sheet1!A2, Sheet2!A2:B3, 3, false)

      As long as there is a match for A1 in both Sheet 1 and Sheet 2, then data will match OK.

      1. Hi Michael,

        Please can you assist me with a formula to VLOOKUP (A1 – which is a 5 or 6 digit number) from a the 1st 5 or 6 digits of a text and bring back the comment in the same row

  9. If I have understood correctly, this should work;

    =VLOOKUP(CONCATENATE(“*”, {the cell you want to lookup on partial match}, “*”), {the rows/columns you want to find the value in – the first column is the lookup column}, {the column number you want to look up, i.e. if you are in C2 is the first column and you want to bring back D2, then this number would be set to 2}, false)

  10. Dear Michael, thank you so much for posting this! It helped me quite a bit! However, just wanted to ask you this:
    When I try to look up ALWAYS PLASTICS COMPARY in a list that contains:

    I don’t get a match, and I found out because I am looking up COMPARY with an R and also I have PLASTICS with an S at the end. What would you recommend in this situation? The same thing happens when I look up ALL IN 1 PRODUCTS LTD in a list that contains:
    ALL IN 1 LTD

    1. Hi Dan,

      Glad this has been of some use to you. Yes, you will find that if you are working with extremely bad data that any kind of VLOOKUP just isn’t going to be suitable. Really, what you need is to run through your data and clean it all up, which is unfortunately often a time consuming and manual(ish) job. Depending on what you are trying to do with this, it may be best to use an actual database (i.e. MySQL or similar) to accomplish your task. Bad data is very difficult to work with, so it would always be recommended to clean this up so that you can use the data well. Regular expression matching is possible within Excel, although it’s not straight forward,

      Hope that helps anyhow, let me know if you need any other pointers.

  11. Hi Michael, I am wondering if I am having the same question as some previous folks.
    I have column a and column b.
    Column A is a short list of company name I want to match up to Column B longer list of company names.

    The problem is it needs to be a partial match because some of the companies will be worded slightly differently – say Institute of California and then California Institute.

    Is it possible to have column c pull out from column b the likely match from column a?


    1. Hi Kat,

      The only way of doing this is to lookup a single word or phrase that is definitely going to be in the list. In that example you gave, “California” is always in the list. the problem being is that Column A is “Institute of California” and I’m guessing cell A2 could then be “San Francisco Institute” (the opposite of the first row).

      It sounds like a bad data problem again unfortunately. When using VLOOKUP using partial match, you need to have a defined point that can be checked.

  12. Hi Michael,

    I need your help as well. I have a long list of contact numbers from different countries and I need to match them with their respective country names. I defined a group with the international codes and their country names. Now I want a formula that only looks for the first 3 or 4 integers of the phone numbers (as theses are international codes) in the contact list to match with the international codes defined by me and pull the name of the country for each.

    I defined the group in both column A (International code) and B (Country name) and the list of phone numbers is in column C. I need the to see the country names in column D.
    Please assist with the formula. Thank you

    1. Hi AJ,

      Ok here is what I would do. Firstly, see about splitting Column C for the phone numbers into two columns, Column C for the country code portion of the phone number, and Column D for the rest of the phone number. This may take a bit of fiddling to get this data right but it will be much easier to then look up the correct info. So once you have, Column C for the Country Code Part of Phone Number, and Column D for the Phone Number, you can then run a standard VLOOKUP in Column E for “Country Name” which is along the lines of =VLOOKUP(C2, $A$1:$A$1000, 2, false), which should pull back the relevant country name.

      You could probably achieve the same thing with an enormous function trying to cram this in to take into account 3, 4, hyphenated country codes etc. but this is just a pain. So I’d recommend cleaning the data a little first to make your life easier.

      Hope that helps

  13. Hi Michael,

    I try to use the formula that you gave but it didn’t work in my excel sheet. For example, I try lookup these names:
    Jaspal Gurdev
    Nurul Amira Ahmad

    …… in a list that contains:
    Nurul Amira binti Ahmad
    Jaspal s/o Gurdev

    but it give me N/A values. I try to use LEFT and Vlookup together,
    but still it didn’t working out. Any suggestion?


    1. Hi Dira,

      You’ll have trouble trying to do that. When you don’t have the full string to lookup it is difficult. If you had in th elist “Nurul Amira Ahmad binti” and “Jaspal Gurdev s/o” then this would be simple. The only other option you have would be to split the names into different columns first, so “Jaspal” and “Gurdev” then use a “*”, “Jaspal”, “*”, “Gurdev”, “*” approach although this is going to bring back some horrible results. I’d look at cleaning your data first as there is no guarantee that there isn’t another “Jaspal Bob Gurdev” in the lookup table which would bring back the wrong results than you were expecting.

      Hope that helps

  14. Michael – outstanding information. I have implemented this for VLOOKUP for – ahem – a Fantasy Football Draft board that yields on to a team roster after the selection is made. I am dealing with one column (to simplify), and (example) I want to pull the Quarter Backs (via another formula set as “QB”). The concatenate is great for the partial and will pull the 1st RB but I have tried everything to pull the 2nd etc and cannot even after using VLOOKUP, and a combo of INDEX/MATC. SMALLIF does not work because I really need text output. As an example Matt Ryan QB is put on the draft sheet, and is pulled over on to the Roster sheet with this code:

    =VLOOKUP(CONCATENATE(“*”,$B$12), Draft!G3:G17,1,FALSE)
    But I cannot get a formula to pull the next QB (Tom Brady) even after experimenting with the “+1),2)” and many iterations. Any fix here?

    Thanks, Andy

    1. Hi Andy,

      Glad you found the information useful. So to look at your query, here’s what I’d do. The following INDEX/MATCH combo works quite well to pull the next result of something without using VLOOKUP, “=INDEX(A2:A7, MATCH(C2, A2:A7)+1)” – Whereby you are looking to MATCH the value in “C2” from the array in “A2:A7”, then moving it down one with the “+1” in the INDEX part of the formula.

      The other option would be to re-jig the data a bit to add in some unique lookup values. For example, (I know nothing about English football, never mind American football!), if there are 2 Quarter Backs, could you not add in another column in the Team Roster table where you have Column A for all of the positions available in the team, then Column B would be an option to enter in the persons name, then Column C would be any other info you require to pull in about this person based on the unique lookup id of the person’s name?

      Another option may be to look at how to VLOOKUP inside a VLOOKUP

      Hope that helps get you on the right track :-)

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Michael Cropper

Founder & Managing Director at Contrado Digital Ltd
Michael has been running Contrado Digital for over 10 years and has over 15 years experience working across the full range of disciplines including IT, Tech, Software Development, Digital Marketing, Analytics, SaaS, Startups, Organisational and Systems Thinking, DevOps, Project Management, Multi-Cloud, Digital and Technology Innovation and always with a business and commercial focus. He has a wealth of experience working with national and multi-national brands in a wide range of industries, across a wide range of specialisms, helping them achieve awesome results. Digital transformation, performance and collaboration are at the heart of everything Michael does.