Subtotal vs Total – Learn The Difference (Explained For Beginners)

If you’ve ever received a bill or receipt, you might be familiar with the word subtotal or total. In this article, we’ll explain the major differences between the two so you don’t have to worry about accidentally using the wrong one.

What Is The Difference Between “Subtotal” And “Total”?

“Total” should be used when you’re talking about the absolute end sum of something. It combines all aspects of a bill together, including discounts, taxes, prices, etc. “Subtotal” should be used when talking about the total of a set of numbers that isn’t the final sum.

What Is The Difference Between "Subtotal" And "Total"?

Which Is Higher: Total Or Subtotal?

You might not be too familiar with the difference, and that’s okay. One really easy tip to help you remember is to remember which one is higher.

“Total” is higher than “subtotal” because “total” is the overall and final sum of a list of numbers. “Subtotal” only weighs up a few numbers and won’t take into account the whole thing.

Make sure you remember this difference when it comes to using total and subtotal yourself. It also helps if you want to try and calculate the prices of things on a bill (though that’s not the only place you’ll come across totals in this way).

Is It “Subtotal,” “Sub-Total,” Or “Sub Total”?

When you want to write “subtotal,” it’s important to use one spelling and only one to do so.

“Subtotal” is the only correct spelling. However, you may sometimes see “sub-total” written, even though it’s incorrect. It mostly depends on where you go and which version they prefer when you see either of them written down. “Sub total” is a misspelling and should not be used.

Subtotal is easily the most popular choice of the three, though it’s always up to your own personal preference which version you’d rather use when the time comes.

7 Examples Of How To Use “Subtotal” In A Sentence

Let’s go through some quick examples that’ll help us understand a little more about what “subtotal” means and when it can be used.

  1. That brings your subtotal to $10 before taxes.
  2. Your subtotal is $53. Would you like to add a tip?
  3. The subtotal of employees in the computing department is 25.
  4. Your profits this month bring your subtotal up to $2000.
  5. Before subtracting losses, you’re currently standing at $200.
  6. We should discuss the subtotal of the bill before we add any taxes.
  7. What is the subtotal, and where are my discounts?

As you can see, we apply subtotal to things before we end up with the final total. The final total is the sum of all parts added together, which means both adding and subtracting values that are necessary. In the case of a subtotal, we have yet to subtract or add any of the important parts.

A subtotal is mostly waiting for the final total to be announced. It doesn’t use taxes, discounts, or any other numerical value that might add or subtract from the overall value.

7 Examples Of How To Use “Total” In A Sentence

Now let’s see when “total” is the more acceptable word of the two in a sentence. By the time we use “total,” we’ll have already calculated everything that needs working out.

  1. That brings your total to $15. How would you like to pay?
  2. Your total is $60; thank you, sir.
  3. The total number of employees in this company is 250.
  4. Adding together all your comings and goings, you have a total of $1200 to spend this month.
  5. After subtracting all the losses, your total is $120.
  6. The total of the bill needs to be paid before you can leave the restaurant.
  7. What is the total? What do I owe you?

We use “total” when the final number has been announced. It almost always refers to a price of some kind, though in the case of example 3, we can also see it applying to the number of people at a company.

As long as we’re working with something that can be quantified by numbers, we can use “total” to talk about the overall number of things.

What Is The Difference Between “Total,” “Subtotal,” And “Grand Total”?

We’ve already talked about the differences between “total” and “subtotal,” but now we introduce the idea of a “grand total.”

“Total” and “grand total” mean the same thing. They both mean the overall value of the sum at the end of all additions and subtractions. “Grand” is simply added to emphasize that it’s the final amount that you are working with.

What does the “Sub” Prefix Mean In “Subtotal”?

The “sub-” prefix is important when we’re looking at the meaning of “subtotal.” “Sub-” applies to a whole host of words in English, and it always means the same thing.

“Sub-” as a prefix means that something is the subordinate (or secondary option) to a more important subject in the sentence. That means that “subtotal” is less important than “total,” but the “total” needs a “subtotal” before it can be calculated.

Is Subtotal The Same As Sum?

You can sometimes use the words “subtotal” and “sum” synonymously, but they don’t always mean the same thing.

A “sum” can mean “subtotal” or “total.” It can mean the sum of a select number of things, which would be the “subtotal.” It could also mean the sum of everything as a whole, which would be the “total.”

In Which Areas Are “Subtotal” Used?

Let’s quickly look at some of the most common areas you’ll see “subtotal” used today.

Calculations Before Taxes Or Shipping

Tax rates vary from state to state in America. That’s why some national retailers have an easier time sharing “subtotals” with their consumers and adding the varying tax rates and shipping costs after they’ve ordered it.


If you’ve ever done budgeting yourself, you might already be familiar with “subtotal” in this sense. Whether you’re doing personal budgeting or household budgeting, you always have to consider your income and your outgoings.

Your subtotal will be the whole sum of your income before subtracting losses. It could also mean the sum of your losses before adding your income. Either way, it’s used to group specific collections of numbers together.

Subgroup Attendance

Finally, we don’t always have to use prices and costs to use “subtotals.” As we demonstrated earlier, you can also count groups of things or people in a subtotal.

Rather than counting the total number of people (which might be a difficult task in a large business), you can instead find out the number of people in each group. That way, you can add all the subtotals up at the end to come up with the total of employees.

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