Author: Oscar Cronquist Article last updated on February 05, 2018

Mr.Excel had a "challenge of the month" June/July 2008 about Wildcard VLOOKUP:

"The data in column A contains a series of phrases. Every phrase contains one color in the phrase. The goal of the challenge is to use the lookup table in D2:E10 to assign the phrase to one of the names in column E."

The winner created this formula to return last match in the range: =LOOKUP(2^15,SEARCH(D$2:D$10,A2),E$2:E$10) + Enter.

The third winner used circular reference and iterations to return multiple matches.

How to return multiple matches without circular references

Array formula in cell C2:

=INDEX($G$2:$G$12, SMALL(IF(COUNTIF($A2,"*"&$D$2:$D$12&"*"), ROW($D$1:$D$12), ""), COLUMN(A1)))

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Alternative array formula in C2:

=INDEX($G$2:$G$12, SMALL(IF(ISNUMBER(SEARCH(" "&$D$2:$D$12&" ", " "&$A2&" ")), ROW($D$2:$D$12)-MIN(ROW($D$2:$D$12))+1, ""), COLUMN(A1)))

How to create an array formula

  1. Select cell C2
  2. Copy above array formula
  3. Paste to formula bar
  4. Press and hold Ctrl + Shift
  5. Press Enter once
  6. Release all keys

Copy cell C2 and paste it right as far as needed. Then copy cells and paste down as far as needed.

How to copy array formula

  1. Select cell C2
  2. Copy (Ctrl + c)
  3. Select cell D2
  4. Paste (Ctrl + v)

Explaining array formula in cell C2

=INDEX($G$2:$G$12, SMALL(IF(COUNTIF($A2,"*"&$F$2:$F$12&"*"), ROW($F$1:$F$11), ""), COLUMN(A1)))

Step 1 - Find text string



COUNTIF("the ocean is blue",{"*blue*"; "*red*"; "*yellow*"; "*pink*"; "*orange*"; "*brown*"; "*white*"; "*lavendar*"; "*magenta*"; "*ocean*"; "*shirt*"})

and returns {1; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 1; 0}

Step 2 - Convert array to row numbers

IF(COUNTIF($A2,"*"&$F$2:$F$12&"*"), ROW($F$1:$F$11), "")


IF({1; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 1; 0}, {1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11}, "")

and returns {1; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; 10; ""}

Step 3 - Return the k-th smallest row number in this data set

SMALL(IF(COUNTIF($A2,"*"&$F$2:$F$12&"*"), ROW($F$1:$F$11), ""), COLUMN(A1))


SMALL({1; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; ""; 10; ""},1)

and returns 1.

Step 4 - Return a value or reference of the cell at the intersection of a particular row and column

=INDEX($G$2:$G$12, SMALL(IF(COUNTIF($A2,"*"&$F$2:$F$12&"*"), ROW($F$1:$F$11), ""), COLUMN(A1)))


=INDEX($G$2:$G$12, 1)


=INDEX({"Joe"; "Bob"; "Mary"; "Fred"; "Ralph"; "Lora"; "Tracy"; "Earl"; "Jenny"; "John"; "Theresa"}, 1)

and returns "Joe" in cell C2.

Download excel *.xls file

Copy of challengejune2008.xls
(Excel 97-2003 Workbook *.xls)

Functions in this article:

Returns a value or reference of the cell at the intersection of a particular row and column, in a given range

Returns the k-th smallest number in this data set.

Counts the number of cells within a range that meet the given condition

Returns the rownumber of a reference

Returns the smallest number in a set of values. Ignores logical values and text

Checks whether a condition is met, and returns one value if TRUE, and another value if FALSE

Checks whether a value is a number and returns TRUE or FALSE

SEARCH(find_text,within_text, [start_num])
Returns the number of the character at which a specific character or text string is first found, reading left to right (not case sensitive)