Excel’s Active Cell & a Grayed Out Ribbon?

An active cell is outlined by a heavy border, which allows you to easily see where the cell is that is being worked with and where data will be entered. It can also be referred to as the current cell or selected cell.

Active Cell

Why is this important to know? I have a couple of reasons to share with you.

First, it lets you know what cell you are in. When you start typing text or entering a formula, this is where that data will appear.

Second, if you are in edit mode, some commands on the Ribbon will be grayed out and you can’t use them.

“Ms. Harris, my Ribbon isn’t working,” a student says out loud in class.

By now, when I hear something to that effect, I know what they are referring to. But I go ahead and ask

“can you be more specific?”

“Nothing I click on will work, everything is grayed out,” comes the response.

Let’s take a closer look at what this student is referring to. Take a look a Figure 1 below. The cell E2 is selected, but not in edit mode. You can see the commands are available on the Home tab of the Ribbon.

Active cell not in edit mode
Figure 1 Cell Selected, but not in Edit Mode

Now let’s take a look at Figure 2 below. Cell E2 is in edit mode. You can tell from the insertion cursor in the cell. Also notice that the commands on the Home Tab of the Ribbon are grayed out.

Figure 2 The cell is in Edit Mode
Figure 2 The cell is in Edit Mode

You can edit the contents of a cell directly in the cell (you can also edit the contents of a cell by typing in the formula bar.) When Excel is in edit mode some features work differently or are unavailable. For example, you cannot change the alignment of the contents of a cell.

Also, the arrow keys behave differently. Instead of moving the cursor from cell to cell, in Edit mode, the arrow keys move the cursor around in the cell.

To exit edit mode, simply hit the Enter, Tab, or the Esc key on your keyboard. Or click another cell in the worksheet.