The VLOOKUP function is a super popular formula but suffers from a major drawback. You canâ€™t lookup data to the left!

However, there’s a sneaky trick that lets us VLOOKUP to the left, so we can search for a term and return a result from a column *to the left* of the original search column:

## How do we create a VLOOKUP to the left?

What we do is create a new virtual table with an array, where the columns are switched, so the VLOOKUP can work on this temporary, virtual table.

### What’s the formula?

Let’s assume we have data in columns A and B. I want to search column B and return the value from column A, then we use:

### Can I see an example worksheet?

### How does the VLOOKUP to the left formula work?

Imagine this is your raw data table and you want to search for a name and return the rent figure:

The first step is to use an array literal formula to create a new table on the fly, and then perform the VLOOKUP on this new temporary table.

This formula creates the temporary table:

as shown in the following image:

This formula has curly brackets to denote an array and inside, the two columns are swapped. This creates an array output with the two columns reversed.

*Note, they don’t have to be adjacent columns, they just happen to be in this simple example.*

Next, this formula performs a vlookup on the new temporary table (which is all done inside the vlookup, so you won’t actually see the temporary table):

which effectively performs a search like so:

Bingo!

It returns $2,214 as we want.

*Note: A better way to solve this is by using a combination of the INDEX and MATCH functions. See Day 10 of my free Advanced Formulas 30-day Challenge course.*

See also how to have VLOOKUP return multiple columns.

All-matches, un-ordered lookup:

=FILTER(A:A, B:B = $E$2)

First-match, un-ordered lookup:

=INDEX(A:A, MATCH($E$2, B:B, 0))

First-match, ordered lookup: (fastest by n^2 rows)

=INDEX(A:A, MATCH($E$2, B:B, 1))

Will it work if the range A1:A10 Contains drop down list? If not why?

# Thanks in advance

Great tip and so simple!

THANK YOU SO MUCH

Hi, the formula ={B8:B17,A8:A17} doesn’t work in my Google Sheets. Instead of returning a table of 2 columns, mine returns a table with 1 column: column B and below column A. Any idea about how to solve the issue?

Hi Caterina,

Are you based in Europe? If you are, your syntax is ={B8:B17\A8:A17}

Otherwise, I’m not sure what’s happening. You could try using the XLOOKUP function, which is better for left lookups anyway: https://www.benlcollins.com/spreadsheets/xlookup-function/

Hope this helps!

Ben