Difference between Rows and Columns

Updated on June 6, 2016

Whether they occur in matrices, spreadsheets, or even classroom settings, both rows and columns are often used to properly distinguish categories, classifications, types and more. The problem is that the use of these words is a bit confusing for some.


m-by-n matrix diagram showing ‘m’ as rows (running horizontally) and ‘n’ as columns (running vertically)


When talking about rows in today’s age, it usually refers to a dataset in spreadsheets or tables. Whichever the case is, rows are generally a group of cells or items that are aligned horizontally to provide uniformity or simply a better arrangement of said cells or items. On account of rows being horizontal, they generally run from left to right. On spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel, the rows are numbered, going from top to bottom.

In classroom settings, however, rows are used for describing seating arrangements that give the professor/teacher an easier way to identify each of his/her pupils or students, especially for the first few days of classes.


As with rows, columns also usually pertain to a dataset in a spreadsheet or table. These are groups of cells or items that are aligned vertically, from top to bottom. This alignment also provides uniformity or simply a better arrangement of said cells or items. On spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel, the columns are identified by letters starting with the letter ‘A’, going from left to right.

As with rows, columns are also used in describing seating arrangements. They even have the same benefits of easily identifying pupils/students.

Rows vs Columns

What’s the difference between rows and columns?

In a spreadsheet, you’ll notice that the cells are divided into rows or columns. So how do we distinguish them? Simple: we incorporate ‘rows’ with ‘horizontal’ or ‘left to right/right to left’ and ‘columns’ with ‘vertical’ or ‘top to bottom/bottom to top’. So looking at the spreadsheet, you’ll notice that rows and columns have labels on them, either by letters or numbers. So if you see numbers or letters that run from left to right, those are a set of cells called columns. If labels are from top to bottom, the set of cells are called rows.

In a database, rows and columns aren’t much different from that of a spreadsheet. Rows are still from left to right, and columns are from top to bottom. They are often used to identify data where rows and columns contain information like gender, name, age, etc.

In a classroom setting, you have probably noticed that some teachers use the words ‘rows’ and ‘columns’ incorrectly. Some teachers label each set of chairs that are arranged vertically as rows 1, 2, 3, and so on, when actually these sets of chairs should be labeled as columns.

To avoid further confusion, just remember that rows always go from side to side, and columns go from top to bottom. Whether used in a spreadsheet, database, tables, or classrooms, the direction of rows and columns does not change.

Comparison Chart

Set of cells or items that run from left to rightSet of cells or items that run from top to bottom
In Excel, it is labeled by numbersIn Excel, it is labeled by letters


Here is a simple but informative video about rows and columns on a database.