How to Change the Behavior of the Enter Key in Excel

Bottom Line: Learn to change what happens when the Enter key is pressed after editing a cell. The cell below is typically selected, but we can change this behavior.

Skill Level: Beginner

Video Tutorial

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Preventing the Enter Key from Moving Down

Typically when you are editing a cell and press the Enter key, the cell below is selected. This is the default behavior in Excel, but there are a few ways to change this.

Default Enter Key moves cell down

About a month ago, we received a comment on one of our YouTube tutorials from a viewer called DRSteele, who indcated that their preference for the Enter key is that it doesn't make the active cell move at all.

DRSteele Comment

Fellow commenter Joe M suggested a great one-at-a-time solution. If you don't want your selected cell to move down, you can press Ctrl + Enter instead of just Enter.

Joe M Comment

That's a really good tip for individual instances, and one I use often.

Ctrl Enter to Keep Same Cell Selected After Entering or Modifying Formula

Altering Enter Key Behavior

If you want to change the behavior of your Enter key for the long term, DRSteele's recommendation to change the setting in Excel Options is great.

You can make it so that the Enter key makes the active cell stay where it is. You can also make it so that the Enter key moves the selected cell in another direction. It's a setting that is very easy to adjust.

Start by choosing the File tab, and then selection Options (at the bottom of the left menu). This will bring up the Excel Options window, where you'll want to select the Advanced Tab.

The first option in this menu controls how the Enter key behaves. You can uncheck the box if you don't want the Enter key to move the selection at all. Or you can use the drop-down menu to select another direction for the Enter key to move the active cell (up, down, left, or right).

Advanced Options Enter Key Behavior

If you've turned off the option to move the active cell, you can to use your arrow keys to move the highlighted cell instead of Enter.

Bonus Tip: Use the Tab Key for Tables

If you are entering data in a block that is set up as a table, you might want to use the Tab key instead of Enter. This moves your selection to the right, and as you get to the rightmost column of the table, the Tab key will move you down to the leftmost entry of the next row of the table.

This pattern of movement is the same way your eyes move when you read a book in English. Therefore, it's probably a familiar pattern to your brain, which may allow you to enter data faster.

Using the tab key in a table

Selecting Shift + Tab will move you in the opposite direction.

Conclusion

Thanks again to everyone for the suggestions. Your comments inspire videos and help us all learn. So don't be shy; please leave a comment or suggestion below if this tip has been helpful or you have other recommendations for changing the behavior of the Enter key.

8 comments

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  • @PG: Good point! I hadn’t thought of that and it would work well when dealing with multiple rows and columns as you only have to transpose once to a new location – work with those cells using the normal behavior of the Enter key – then transpose the updated cells back to the original location. Thanks!

  • @Mike: You beat me to it, as that’s how I often control the Enter key behavior without making permanent changes. Another tip: if you’re entering data in a highlighted range but would rather the cursor move across the row rather than down the column, then transpose the rows/columns first, enter your data in the highlighted range, then transpose it back again.

  • If I am doing left to right data entry on a single row and my enter key normally moves me down, I will first highlight all the cells I am entering data in (eg A1 to E1). Then when I have entered data in A1 and hit Enter, I am moved to cell B1, then C1, etc. The advantage here is that I can use this on the fly without committing to any option changes.

    If I highlight more than one row, then I move down the cells in the first column, and then automatically jump up to the first cell in the second column, etc.

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