Why does "cut and paste" cause #REF! errors?



My situation is as follows:

Sheet1!A1:Sheet1!A6 contain six numeric values, say 1 through 6, respectively.

Sheet2!A1:Sheet2!A3 contain three cell references to Sheet1!A1 through
Sheet1!A3, respectively.

When I cut cells Sheet1!A4:Sheet1!A6 and paste them over Sheet1!A1:Sheet1!A3
all the cell references on Sheet2 get replaced with "=Sheet1!#REF!".

If I perform the same operation by copying the data (rather than cutting
it), pasting, then deleting the copied data I get the expected
behavior--seeing the new data for cells Sheet1!A1:Sheet1!A3 appear by
reference on Sheet2 in the proper cells.

I also noticed that if I use a cut operation I cannot "Paste Special" but if
I use a copy operation I can.

I referenced the help on this error. From the "Correct a #REF! error" help

"You may have deleted cells that were referred to by other formulas, or you
may have pasted cells that you moved on top of cells that were referred to by
other formulas."

So that tells me that I will see the behavior I am seeing, but it does not
tell me why. Interestingly, this statement would lead me to believe that if
I highlighted cells Sheet1!A1:Sheet1!A3 and pressed the delete key I should
get a #REF! error on each of cells in the range Sheet2!A1:Sheet2!A3; this,
however, is not the case.

I don't understand why cut operations are treated fundamentally different
than copy operations in Excel. Isn't cut just a copy followed by a delete of
the original data? Yet if I do a copy followed by delete I see dramatically
different behavior.

Thanks in advance.


Jim Thomlinson

There are 3 things that we are talking about here. Cut, Copy, Delete and
Clear Contents. One thing to note about a cell in XL is that you can think of
it as an actual physical thing. Based on that we can go through each of the

Delete - You are physically deleting the cell when you do this you will be
asked how you want to shift the cells around the cell you are deleting
becuase it will be completely gone. A new cell will be created at the very
bottom or on the very right of the cells being deleted.

Clear Contents - When you hit the delete key you are actually just clearing
the contents of the cell. Note that when you do this all of the formatting
stays. The only change being made is that the formula or value is being
erased. The actual physical cell is still there, it is just empty.

Cut - Cut deletes the cell and puts it in a new cell it it's spot. The cell
is phisically deleted and replaced.

Copy - Copy makes an exact copy of the cell that you can put somewhere else.
The cell is not being deleted.

Any time a cell is deleted any formulas that referenced that cell now
reference nothing so you will get a #ref error. Cut, Delete (and Move) all
perform a delete so you are prone to getting #ref errors. Clear contents and
copy do not delete the cell so there are no worries here...

Shane Devenshire


This really has nothing to do with pasting between sheets, try this:

In cell A1 enter the formula =A2

Now select B1 and cut and paste it on A2. Cell A1 will return a ref error.
This is Excel's correct behavior.

Depending on what you are trying to do you could use Copy and Paste instead.
You can keep the references fixed by making them absolute before you copy,
$A$6, for example.

Shane Devenshire
Microsoft Excel MVP

Jon Peltier

Cut - Cut deletes the cell and puts it in a new cell it it's spot. The
is phisically deleted and replaced.

Actually, the cell which is deleted is the cell that the cut cell is pasted
onto. Cut and Paste is like dragging and dropping the cell.

- Jon
Jon Peltier, Microsoft Excel MVP
Tutorials and Custom Solutions
Peltier Technical Services, Inc. - http://PeltierTech.com


Awesome! Thank you Jim and Jon for your help here. This makes a lot more
sense. I never considered that some operations may operate on the cell
itself and others may operate on the contents of the cell.

May I suggest that Excel need some better documentation in this area?

Thanks agian!


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