How to highlight cells that begin with specific value in Excel

In this article, we will learn How to highlight cells that begin with a specific value in Excel.


Sometimes given a list of data where we need to highlight cells if cell value starts with the specific value. Highlighting cells is performed using the conditional formatting in Excel. Conditional Formatting is used to highlight the data on the basis of some criteria. It would be difficult to see various trends just for examining your Excel worksheet. Let's understand below how conditional formatting catches the starting string of a cell and matches it with the given value.

How to solve the problem?

For this we will be using the Conditional formatting obviously. And we can use any of the two functions SEARCH function or FIND function. The difference is SEARCH function, is case insensitive which means it will match any of  substrings "ABC", "Abc", "aBc", "ABc", if matched with "abc". FIND function is case sensitive which matches only substring "abc", if matched with "abc". Below shown is the generic formula to solve this problem.

SEARCH Formula Syntax:

=SEARCH(sp_val, cell)=1

FIND Formula Syntax:

=FIND(sp_val, cell)=1

sp_val : specific or particular value to match with.

cell : cell to check


Example :

All of these might be confusing to understand. Let's understand it better via running the formula on some values. Here we have some university exam codes. We need to highlight the mathematics exam codes. Mathematics Exam code begins with "MA".

What we need here is to check each cell which starts with "MA". 

Go to Home -> Conditional formatting -> New Rule

A dialog box appears in front select Use a formula to determine which cells to format -> input the below formula under the Format values where this formula is True:

Use the formula:



  1. Search matches the string in the cell value.
  2. Search function returns the position of occurrence of the substring in text.
  3. If the position matches with 1 i.e. the start of the cell. The formula returns True if matched or else False.
  4. True value in conditional formatting formats the cell as required.
  5. Customize the cell format by clicking the Format button in the right bottom of the dialog box as shown below.
  6. The format will will displayed adjacent to the Format button. 

The background color gets Green ( highlight formatting) as you click Ok as shown above. Now copy the formula to the rest of cells using the Ctrl + D or dragging down form right bottom of B2 cell. 

As you can see all the mathematics exam codes are highlighted. You can input specific value substring, with quotes(") in the formula along with an example solved using the FIND function as shown below.

FIND function is case sensitive function :

FIND function returns the position of the occurrence of the find_text value in the cell value. The difference occurs if the value you are trying to match must be case sensitive. See the below formula and snapshot to understand How to highlight cells that begin with specific value in Excel.

Use the formula :


B2 : within_text

"MA" : find_text substring

As you can see the lowercase exam code "ma-58" doesn't match the substring "MA" as we used the FIND function here. So, it's preferable to use the SEARCH function with conditional formatting. Conditional Formatting provides a way to visualize data and make worksheets easier to understand. You can perform various tasks using the different features of conditional formatting in Excel.

Here are all the observational notes regarding using the formula. 


  1. Conditional formatting allows you to apply the formatting basis on the cell values such as colours, icons and data bars.
  2. The formula works for text and numbers both. 
  3. SEARCH function is case insensitive function.

Hope you understood How to highlight cells that begin with a specific value in Excel. Explore more articles on Excel matching and highlighting cells with formulas here. If you liked our blogs, share it with your friends on Facebook. And also you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We would love to hear from you, do let us know how we can improve, complement or innovate our work and make it better for you. Write to us at


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