Contextures

Create Dependent Drop Down Lists

Limit the choices in an Excel drop down list, depending on the value in another cell. For example, select "Fruit" in cell B2, and "apple, banana, peach" appear in the dependent drop down list in cell C2. Watch the video below, to see how it works, and written steps and sample files are below.

NOTE: There are other techniques for setting up dependent drop down lists, so choose the setup method that is best for your needs.

Demo: Dependent Drop Down Lists

This animated screen shot shows how a simple dependent drop down list works.

  • Fruit is selected as Produce Type in row 3, so the drop down shows the Fruit list
  • Vegetable is selected as Produce Type in row 4, so the drop down shows the Vegetable list

There are setup instructions and a video in the next section.

Dependent drop-down

Video: Dependent Drop Down Lists

In this dependent data validation video, select Fruit or Vegetable in the first column, to limit what is shown in the drop down list in the next column. The written instructions are below the video, and the full transcript is on the Dependent Drop Down Lists Video page.

NOTE: There are other techniques for setting up dependent drop down lists, so choose the setup method that is best for your needs.

How to Make Dependent Drop Down Lists

Here are the step-by-step instructions for making dependent drop down lists. This example uses Fruit and Vegetable lists.

In the screen shot below, you can see the completed data entry sheet. Select a produce type (fruit or vegetable) in column B. Then, in column C, a dependent drop down list show items for the selected product type only.

test the dependent drop down list

There are a few steps for setting up the drop down lists, and the details are in the sections below.

Set Up the Worksheets

This example will have a workbook with two sheets -- a data entry sheet, and a sheet with lists.

  1. Create a new workbook
  2. Change the name for Sheet1 to "DataEntry"
  3. Insert a new sheet in the workbook, and name that sheet "Lists"

new workbook with two sheets

Create Lists

Next, you'll create lists with items for the drop down lists.

In this example, you'll set up 3 lists. The main list has produce types, and the other two lists have items for the dependent drop downs.

To create each list, you'll do three things:

  1. Type the items on the Lists sheet
  2. Format the lists as an Excel table
  3. Name the lists.

1. Type the Lists

To type the lists, go to the Lists sheet. Start with the main list - Produce types.

  1. In cell B2, type the main list heading, Produce List
  2. In cells B3 and B4, type Fruit and Vegetable.

NOTE: The Produce list has one-word items in it -- Fruit and Vegetable. This is important, because those words will be used as Excel names, and two-word names are not allowed as names. If you need to use multiple-word items in the main list, see: Using Two Word Items

Add the Dependent Lists

Next, type the dependent lists, with the headings Fruit List (in cell D2) and Vegetable List (in cell F2). These lists can contain one-word items (apple), or multiple-word items (green beans).

type 3 lists

2. Format Lists as Tables

Next, follow these steps, to format each list as an Excel Table. This makes your list dynamic -- the list size will adjust automatically if you add or remove items, so your drop down will show the entire list.

Follow these steps for each of the 3 lists:

  1. Select a cell in the list, and on the Home tab, click Format as Table
  2. format as table

  3. Click on one of the Table Styles
  4. Add a check mark for My table has headers
  5. Click OK

    named table

Here is the Lists sheet, with all 3 lists formatted as Excel Tables

lists formatted as Excel tables

Create a Named Range

Next, follow these steps to create a named range for each formatted Excel Table.. Later, you will use this name, when making the drop down lists on the Data Entry sheet.

Name the Produce List
  1. Select the items in the Produce table (cells B3:B4), but not the table heading.
  2. Click in the Name box, to the left of the formula bar
  3. Type a one-word name for the list -- Produce
  4. Press the Enter key, to complete the name.
  5. First named range

Name the Fruit and Vegetable Lists

Next, follow these steps to name the fruit and vegetable lists.

  1. Select the fruit names in cells D3:D6
  2. Click in the Name box, to the left of the formula bar
  3. Type a one-word name for the list -- Fruit.
  4. Press the Enter key, to complete the name.
  5. Second named range

  6. Select the vegetable names in cells F3:F6.
  7. Click in the Name box, to the left of the formula bar
  8. Type a one-word name for the list -- Vegetable.
  9. Third named range

  10. Press the Enter key, to complete the name.

Add the Main Drop Down

Next, you'll add the main drop down (Produce Type) on the DataEntry sheet. This is just a normal data validation drop down list.

Start the Data Entry Sheet

First, you'll enter headings on the data entry sheet, and set up a named table.

  1. On the DataEntry sheet, type the headings in B2:C2 -- ProductType and Item
  2. Select cell B2, and and on the Home tab, click Format as Table
  3. Click on one of the Table Styles
  4. Add a check mark for My table has headers
  5. Click OK

start data entry sheet

Add the Main Drop Down

Next, you'll the main drop down list, in the Produce Type column

  1. On the DataEntry sheet, select cell B3
  2. On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, then click Data Validation.
  3. From the Allow drop-down list, choose List
  4. In the Source box, type an equal sign and the list name: =Produce
  5. start data entry sheet

  6. Click OK, to complete the data validation setup.
  7. To test the drop down, click the arrow in cell B3, and select Fruit from the list

select fruit from the drop down list

Add the Dependent Drop Down

Next, you'll create a dependent drop down list in the Item column. This cell will have a formula to create the data validation drop down list. Read more about the INDIRECT function here.

  1. On the DataEntry sheet, select cell C3
  2. On the Ribbon, click the Data tab, then click Data Validation..
  3. From the Allow drop-down list, choose List
  4. In the Source box, type an equal sign and INDIRECT function, referring to the first data cell in the Produce Type column:
    In this example, cell C3 is active, so the formula will refer to the Product Type cell in row 3: =INDIRECT(B3)
    Note: If you click on cell B3, Excel will add an absolute reference -- $B$3. Remove the $ signs, becuse we need a relative reference in this formula
  5. Click OK.

INDIRECT formula for dependent drop down list

Note: If cell B3 is empty, you'll see the message shown below. Click Yes to continue.

Source error message

Test the Drop Down Lists

To test the dependent drop down lists, follow these steps

  1. Fruit should be selected in cell B3 -- if not, select it now.
  2. Select cell C3, then click the arrow, and select one of the fruit items from the list

    test the dependent drop down list

  3. Then, press the Tab key, to start a new row in the data entry table.
  4. In the Produce Type column, select Vegetable from the Produce drop down list.
  5. Move to the Item column, in the same row.
  6. In the Item column, click the drop down arrow, and select an item from the Vegetable list

test the dependent drop down list

NOTE: If a Produce Type has not been selected, the Item drop down in that row will not work.

Dependent Drop Down - Cities

This is another example of dependent drop down lists in Excel. In this dependent data validation video, if a country is selected from the first drop down, only the cities from that country are in the drop down list.

This video shows the basic set up steps, and then shows how to use the Excel IF function with a dependent drop down.

Advanced Dependent Drop Downs

The instructions in the previous sections show how to set up a basic dependent drop down list. Here are a few advanced examples.

Use Two-Word Items

In some workbooks, you might need to have two-word items in the first Excel data validation drop-down list. For example, your choices are 'Red Fruit', 'Green Fruit' and 'Yellow Fruit'

  1. Create the first named range and dropdown list as described above.
  2. Create the supporting named lists, using one-word names, e.g. RedFruit, GreenFruit, YellowFruit
  3. For the second dropdown, choose to Allow: List, and use a formula that removes the spaces from the names. For example:

  =INDIRECT(SUBSTITUTE(A2," ",""))

Dependent two word lists

Main Items with Illegal Characters

You may need items in the first Excel data validation drop-down list that contain characters not allowed in range names, such as the ampersand (&).

dependent drop down illegal 3rd

For example, your choices are 'Red Fruit', 'Green Fruit' and 'Yellow & Orange Fruit'. For the dependent lists, you can create ranges with one-word names, such as YOFruit. Then, create a lookup table, which lists each item in the first Excel data validation drop-down list, and the range where its dependent items will be stored.

To start, create the item lists and the first Excel data validation drop-down:

  1. Create the first named range and drop-down list as described above. In this example, the range is named ProductList, with values in cells A6:A8. The drop-down list in cell A2 uses ProductList as its source.
  2. Create the dependent lists, and name them, using one-word names, with "List" at the end, e.g. RedFruitList, GreenFruitList, YOFruitList. In this example, RedFruitList is in A11:A12, YOFruitList is in A15:A16 and GreenFruitList is in A19:20.
  3. Select an item from the drop-down list in cell A2.

Next, you'll create the lookup table, to match each item with its dependent items' range name.

  1. In the column to the right of the FruitList range, enter the code name for each item's dependent list. For example, YOFruit is entered as the code name for Yellow & Orange Fruit.
  2. Name the lookup table. In this example, the range A6:B8 is named ProductLookup.
  3. Select cell B2, and from the Data menu, choose Validation.
  4. Choose to Allow: List.
  5. For the Source, enter a formula that uses a VLookup formula to find the dependent list's range name -- a combination of the code name and "List".
    For example:   =INDIRECT(VLOOKUP(A2,ProductLookup,2,0)&"List")

With Red Fruit selected in cell A2, the VLookup formula will return RedFruitList as the range name for the dependent list. The RedFruitList items will be displayed in cell B2's drop-down.

dependent drop down illegal 3rd

To create a 3rd dependent drop down list, use the same techniques, to create lookup tables and items lists.

dependent drop down illegal 3rd

In the screen shot below, there are lookup tables named RedFruitLookup, YOFruitLookup and GreenFruitLookup. Items lists, with the code names and "List", have been added to the worksheet.

dependent drop down illegal 3rd

In the data validation window, use this formula for the 3rd drop down:

=INDIRECT(VLOOKUP(B2,INDIRECT(VLOOKUP(A2,ProductLookup,2,0)&"Lookup"),2,0)&"List")

The formula finds the lookup table based on the product type selected in cell A2, e.g. RedFruitLook, and gets the code for the selected product -- Mac. It adds "List" to the code, and shows the items in the MacList range.

items from MacList

Add a Third Dependent Drop Down

If you need to, you can add another set of dependent data validation dropdown lists that depend on the selections in the first two dropdowns. select a country and region, then select a city in the selected country and region.

Note that the region names are not unique -- there is a West region in both Canada and the USA -- so we can't show a City list that is only based on the region names.

To make sure that the correct list of cities appears, the city lists will be named for the country and region. There are 2 countries, and each country has 3 regions, so we will set up 6 named ranges for the 3rd level drop down lists.

NOTE: If you need more than a few named ranges for your 3rd level lists, try the Dependent Lists with Tables technique instead -- it will be easier to set up and maintain.

city drop down list

To set up 3-level dependent lists:

  1. Create the main named ranges - Country, Canada and USA, as described above.
  2. city drop down list

  3. Create another set of named ranges, naming them for the available combinations in the first two lists. For example, create ranges named CanadaWest and USAWest.

    city drop down list

  4. On the data entry sheet, set up drop down lists in the Country and Region columns.
  5. For the City dropdown, add data validation, and choose to Allow: List
  6. For the source, use a formula that combines the entries in the first two columns.
    For example, in cell D2, the data validation formula uses INDIRECT and SUBSTITUTE, to combine the values in B2 and C2, and remove any space characters:
  7.   =INDIRECT(SUBSTITUTE(B2&C2," ",""))

    city drop down list

Use Dynamic Lists

Because the INDIRECT function only works with references, not formulas, the previous method for dependent data validation won't work with lists that use formula-based dynamic named ranges, such as OFFSET ranges. Use one of the following solutions when a dynamic list is required:

Named Excel Tables

To avoid the problem, use named Excel tables, instead of formula-based dynamic ranges.

  • Create a table with your list items
  • Select all the items in the table column (not the heading)
  • Click in the Name Box, type a one-word name the range, and press Enter

Then, use one of the INDIRECT function examples shown above, to create a dependent drop down list.

Dynamic Name Workaround

If you can't use the Named Excel Tables, use the following method for creating dependent lists from formula-based dynamic named ranges:

  1. Create the first named range and dropdown list as described above.
  2. Create the supporting named lists, and name the first cell in each range, e.g. cell B1 is named Fruit and cell C1 is named Vegetables.

    Dependent dynamic lists

  3. Name the column in which each list is located, e.g. column B is named FruitCol and column C is named VegetablesCol
  4. For the second dropdown, choose to Allow: List, and use a formula that calculates the lookup range. For example, if the first dropdown list is in cell E2:

=OFFSET(INDIRECT($E2),0,0,COUNTA(INDIRECT(E2&"Col")),1)

if two-word items will be used, you can include the SUBSTITUTE function in the formula:

=OFFSET(INDIRECT(SUBSTITUTE($F2," ","")),0,0,COUNTA(INDIRECT(SUBSTITUTE($F2," ","")&"Col")),1)

Prevent Invalid Selections

After someone selects an item from a dependent drop down, they could go back to the main drop down, and select a different item. That could result in mismatched items in that row.

For example, Fruit could be selected from the main drop down, and then Lemon in the dependent drop down. If Fruit is changed to Vegetable later, the Lemon selection would be incorrect -- it's not a vegetable.

To prevent invalid selections, here are a couple of techniques that you can use

Block Changes in First Drop Down

To block changes to the first list, you can change the data validation formula, so the list does not appear unless the second cell is empty. This video shows you how this technique works, and written instructions are below the video.

Block Changes in First Drop Down

With dependent drop down lists, problems can occur, if someone goes back to the first list, and changes it. Then, the first and second selections are mismatched -- for example, in the screen shot below, Vegetable is the first choice, and Banana is selected in the second column.

To block changes to the first list, you can change the data validation formula, so the list doesn't work unless the second cell is empty.

dependent drop down empty

Instead of just referring to the Produce range for the Produce Type drop down, the formula will check for an entry in the Item column.

  • If the Item cell is blank, the Produce Type drop down will show the Produce list
  • If an item has been selected, the drop down will try to show the range created by the INDIRECT function -- "FakeRange". Because there is no range with that name, the result is an error, and the drop down will not work.

To change the formula:

  1. Select the data validation cells in the first column
  2. On the Ribbon's Data tab, click Data Validation
  3. For Allow, select List
  4. In the Formula box, type:
  5. =IF(C2="",Produce,INDIRECT("FakeRange"))

  6. Click OK

Now, the drop down in the first column won't work if the Item has been selected in that row.

Clear Dependent Cell After Selecting

In the previous section, the data validation formula was designed to prevent selections from the first drop down, if the cell to the right contained data.

Another option is to use a macro, to clear the dependent cell, after making a selecting in the first drop down. That will prevent mismatched selections.

In this example, column B contains a drop down list of Regions. After you select a Region, the drop down list in column C shows the customers in the selected region.

drop down list of Regions

Go back and select a different region, and the existing customer name will be cleared.

existing customer name is cleared

Add Event Code to Clear the Customer Cell

When you select a Region, event code clears the cell to the right. To add the code, right-click the sheet tab, and click View Code.

Paste the following code onto the sheet module. You might need to change the column number, to match the column number on your worksheet.

NOTE: The sample workbook also has code for clearing multiple dependent cells.

Private Sub Worksheet_Change(ByVal Target As Range)
On Error Resume Next
If Target.Column = 2 Then
  If Target.Validation.Type = 3 Then
   Application.EnableEvents = False
   Target.Offset(0, 1).ClearContents
  End If
End If

exitHandler:
  Application.EnableEvents = True
  Exit Sub

End Sub

Download the Sample Files

  1. Download a sample file for dependent data validation Intro - Fruit/Vegetable example
  2. Download a sample file for dependent data validation Advanced - 3rd list; 2-word/illegal
  3. Download a sample file for dependent data validation with Dynamic Lists
  4. Download a sample file for Clear Dependent Cell After Selecting

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Last updated: July 26, 2018 7:31 PM