Formula Challenge #2: Matching Terms

This Formula Challenge originally appeared as part of Google Sheets Tip #52, my weekly newsletter, on 27 May 2019.

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Your Challenge

Start with this small data table in your Google Sheet:

Formula Challenge dataset

Your challenge is to create a single-cell formula that takes a string of search Terms and returns all the Results that have at least one matching term in the Terms column.

For example, this search (in cell E2 say)

Raspberries, Orange, Apple

would return the results (in cell F2 say):


like this (where the yellow is your formula):

Formula Challenge expected results

Check out the ready-made Formula Challenge template.

The Solution

Solution One: Using the FILTER function


or even:


These elegant solutions were also the shortest solutions submitted.

There were a lot of similar entries that had an ArrayFormula function inside the Filter, but this is not required since the Filter function will output an array automatically.

How does this formula work?

Let’s begin in the middle and rebuild the formula in steps:

=SPLIT(E2,", ")

The SPLIT function outputs the three fruits from cell E2 into separate cells:

Raspberries    Orange    Apple

Next, join them back together with the pipe “|” delimiter with

=JOIN("|",SPLIT(E2,", "))

so the output is now:


Then bring the power of regular expression formulas in Google Sheets to the table, to match the data in column B. The pipe character means “OR” in regular expressions, so this formula will match Raspberries OR Orange OR Apple in column B:

=REGEXMATCH(B2:B11,JOIN("|",SPLIT(E2,", ")))

On its own, this formula will return a #VALUE! error message. (Wrap this with the ArrayFormula function if you want to see what the array of TRUE and FALSE values looks like.)

However, when we put this inside of a FILTER function, the correct array value is passed in:


and returns the desired output. Kaboom!

Solution Two: Using the QUERY function

=QUERY(A2:B11,"select A where B contains '"&JOIN("' or B contains '",SPLIT(E2,", "))&"'")

As with solution one, there is no requirement to use an ArrayFormula anywhere. Impressive!

This formula takes a different approach to solution one and uses the QUERY function to filter the rows of data.

The heart of the formula is similar though, splitting out the input terms into an array, then recombining them to use as filter conditions.

=JOIN("' or B contains '",SPLIT(E2,", ",0))

which outputs a clause ready to insert into your query function, viz:

Raspberries' or B contains 'Orange' or B contains 'Apple

The QUERY function uses a pseudo-SQL language to parse your data. It returns rows from column A, whenever column B contains Raspberries OR Orange OR Apple.


Click here to open a read-only version of the solution template (File > Copy to make your own editable copy).

I hope you enjoyed this challenge and learnt something from it. I really enjoyed reading all the submissions and definitely learnt some new tricks myself.

SPLIT function caveats

There are two dangers with the Split function which are important to keep in mind when using it (thanks to Christopher D. for pointing these out to me).

Caveat 1

The SPLIT function uses all of the characters you provide in the input.


=SPLIT("First sentence, Second sentence", ", ")

will split into FOUR parts, not two, because the comma and the space are used as delimiters. The output will therefore be:

First    sentence    Second    sentence

across four cells.

Caveat 2

Datatypes may change when they are split, viz:

=SPLIT("Lisa, 01",",")

gives an output of

Lisa    1

where the string has been converted into a number, namely 1.

See the other Formula Challenges here.