# Comparison of strings containing inequalities in excel countif() function

I'm analyzing some survey data in which the responses are in the form of a string containing inequalities, e.g.

a) < 5

b) 5-10

c) 11-15

d) > 15

I'm attempting to tabulate responses using the `Countifs` function, and Excel does not appear to parse the value of the cell with the criteria argument as a string, and so returns 'False' for those bins; it does not evaluate a cell containing the string '< 5' as being equal to another cell containing '< 5', or the literal argument "< 5".

A comparison of the reference cells in other formulas, using `=` or `EXACT()` returns `TRUE`. I know the criteria argument of the conditional operators like `COUNTIF()`, `SUMIF()`, etc. use strings with inequalities when they're actually serving as operators, but I can't figure out how to suppress this and evaluate these cells as simple strings. Thanks so much!

As stated The countifs in the criteria accepts string and thus `<5` is reading less than five not the string.

To get it to look at the string use `"="`

``````=COUNTIF(C2,"="&C3)
``````

By adding the `=` before the `<`, Excel sees it as a string and not an operand. Instead of fighting the bugs of Excel and getting it to recognize the `<` symbol, I'd solve the problem by removing it altogether. Just replace `<5` with something like `5_or_less` and then `COUNTIF` should work.

`=SUBSTITUTE(A1,"<5","5_or_less")` will do the replacement for `A1` and `<5`. You can put this in a new column, say `B1`. Then do another replacement for `>15` in `C1` like `=SUBSTITUTE(B1,">15","15_or_more"). Then run`COUNTIF`on column`C`.