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I have never used the word "teen" in a sentence, so I looked it up in the dictionary. The dictionary has this explanation for it:

the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

The explanation is not in a full sentence, so I tried to rewrite it this way:

1:

According to Cambridge Dictionary, teen is the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

2:

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the teen is the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

Which of the above two sentences is more grammatical?

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    You need to indicate whether you are using the word as an adjective or a noun. A teen is .... The teen years are ... – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 3 '17 at 13:51
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    I'm not sure if you're concerned about the definition of the word "teen", or just about how to talk about definitions. But if the definition is an issue, "teen" is most often used to mean a person between the ages of 13 and 19. It's use to describe a portion of a century is, in my experience anyway, very rare. I don't think I've ever heard or read someone refer to our current decade as "the teens". The period from 1990 to 1999 was "the nineties", from 1980 to 1989 was "the eighties", etc, but 2010 to 2019 is not called "the teens". – Jay May 3 '17 at 15:40
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    According to the online Cambridge Dictionary (dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/teens ) it is not teen that means "the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century." That is teens. The singular noun teen is defined as "a teenager." (dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/teen) – Adam May 3 '17 at 17:20
  • Hi Adam. Do you mean I should write "the teens"? Please post your idea as an answer. – kitty May 3 '17 at 18:58
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    @Jay: In the 20th century, it was not all that uncommon to hear someone refer to "the teens" of the 20th century: His grandparents came to America back in the teens. The phrase is backwards looking. We won't hear it again for a while. It's not rare, but cyclical. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 3 '17 at 20:38
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Both your examples sound awkward. If you are referring to the meaning of the adjective "teen" then it's better to rephrase it to:

  • According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word "teen" means "the period in which a young person is aged between 13 and 19".
  • The Cambridge Dictionary defines "teen" as "the period in which a young person is aged between 13 and 19".

But if you are referring to the noun "a teen" (informal for teenager) then you could say:

  • According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "teen" is "a person whose age is between 13 and 19".
  • The Cambridge Dictionary defines "teen" as "a person whose age is between 13 and 19".
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The teen years are those between the ages of 13 and 19.

A teen is a person aged 13 to 19.

The noun refers to the person in that age-range. The adjective refers to the age-range, or year-range.

P.S."teens" (plural noun) can refer to the period of any entity's "lifespan" between years 13 and 19. I put "lifespan" in quotes because the entity need not be a living entity, a person, or an animal, say; it can be a century:

I first met her when she was still in her teens. [probably 16 or older, because of "still in", from which we infer "not yet finished" rather than "having just begun"]

Some cats live well into their teens. [considerably more than 13 years]

They emigrated from Europe to America back in the teens [of the century, 1913-1919].

P.P.S. teens (plural noun) can also apply to temperature, 13-19 degrees:

Dress warmly, the temperature today will drop to the low teens. [Fahrenheit]

or to anything involving number measure:

What was the aperture?
-- Oh, somewhere in the teens.

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    Always aiming for simplicity, which is often elusive. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 3 '17 at 13:58
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    This is a different definition than the one in the question, which is confusing. – CHEESE May 3 '17 at 14:27
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    @cheese: see the P.S. I hope it addresses your confusion. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 3 '17 at 14:33
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    @CHEESE: using pronouns that don't have clear antecedents makes your comment impossible to understand: what is "it" and what is "that"? – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 4 '17 at 0:45
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    @Tom Fenech: Because I took the question to be about the word/phrase, not about the particular dictionary. My goal is to help OP understand the word and phrase, not to discuss the merits or shortcomings of that particular definition. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 4 '17 at 12:23
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@Tromano pretty much answered this, but I wanted to hammer on one point that he mentioned in passing:

The OP writes:

I have never used the word "teen" in a sentence, so I looked it up in the dictionary. The dictionary has this explanation for it:

"the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century."

I would be very surprised to see this as a definition for "teen" in a dictionary, and I think the OP probably misread it. The definition given is for "the teens." (e.g. the online Cambridge Dictionary http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/teens )

As an adjective, teen can modify a noun ("Smells like teen spirit"") Teen can be a singular noun - if so, it means "teenager." This can also be pluralized ("Teens these days sure do love dying their sideburns bright colors!")

But used as a noun to refer to a range of something numbered between ten and twenty, teens is always plural, just like twenties or thirties would be.

EXAMPLES:

"In my twenties I ate a lot of boiled croissants."

(When I was 20, 21, 22, ....29 years old, I had poor culinary judgement.)

"I wear a parka until it gets into the seventies."

(I wear a jacket that is much warmer than is really necessary.)

"The automatic avocado peeler was first developed in the teens, but was not widely available until the fifties."

(This piece of technology was invented and improved between 1910 and 1919, but you couldn't buy one in stores until 1951-1959.)

None of these bolded words (teens, twenties, fifties, seventies) can be made singular.


Finally, to answer the actual question, either of these would be acceptable:

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the teens refers to the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the teens are the years between 11 and 19 in any century.

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I would stay away from the word "is." When you're stating a definition, use "means." So write:

According to Cambridge Dictionary, "teen" means the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

Using "the teen" is wrong; the "the" is wholly unnecessary. In addition, you should put it in quotation marks since you are talking about the word, not the thing. All of this makes it clear that you are stating the definition.

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    Why stay away from "is"? It's OK for this, but pretty awkward for other definitions. Compare the sentences: "Pencil" means a writing tool vs. A "pencil" is a writing tool. The latter is much more natural. – Nuclear Hoagie May 3 '17 at 13:41
  • @NuclearWang You don't say "a teen" meaning the part of a century. You wouldn't say "WW1 began in a teen" meaning 1914. – CHEESE May 3 '17 at 13:45
  • @NuclearWang If he were speaking of a noun "a teen" - the informal for teenager then we could use "is" – SovereignSun May 3 '17 at 13:49
  • You could just as easily write this as "Teens are a period of years between 11 and 19 in any century" - you of course would not use the singular "a teen" here. You say don't use "is" when stating definitions, but that seems to be more a peculiarity of how you'd use "teen" in a sentence, particular to this case, rather than an overarching rule for definitions. – Nuclear Hoagie May 3 '17 at 14:25
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    @NuclearWang /A pencil is a writing tool./ is a sentence about the thing. /The word "pencil" means a writing tool./ is a sentence about the word. The sentence /A "pencil" is a writing tool/ is saying that the word "pencil" is a writing tool. – Pete Kirkham May 3 '17 at 16:15
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I quote Tᴚoɯɐuo's comment, since I see none of the answers reflecting that:

You need to indicate whether you are using the word as an adjective or a noun. A teen is .... The teen years are ...

We don't seem to talk as much about the years 1910 through 1919... I guess those years just might not have been as exciting as the "roaring 20s", or the Great Depression or the World Wars. However, when discussing history, I have rarely heard of the second decade of a century being referred to as "the teen years". Even less commonly, "the teens" does sound barely familiar. For later decades, I've definitely heard of "the thirties" up through "the nineties".

So, for your attempts to re-write this, I would suggest the right way to do so would be:

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the teens are the period of years between 11 and 19 in any century.

However, dictionaries tend to define things using singular words. To summarize, using the term/phrase:

  • "teen years" = uncommon
  • "a teen year" (to describe just one year) = even less common than just "teen years"
  • "a teen" (to describe just one year) = completely uncommon, and really unheard, because it is quite wrong
  • "the teens" = less common than "teen years", because people will think you're talking about teenagers. On the rare case when this is used, people can easily tell that dates are being discussed (based on other nearby words)
  • "teens" (to talk about years) = less common than "the teens"

If you say "a teen", using the word "teen" as a noun, people will instantly think you're referring to a "teenager", typically meaning someone who is at least 13 years old and is not an adult (no older than 17 for America), or sometimes no older than 19. Much less commonly, people might refer to a 20 year old as a teen, e.g. when discussing "teenage drinking" (if the legal alcohol-drinking age is 21), although usually people avoid calling 20-year-olds "teens" (by instead using a phrase like "underage drinking")

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