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Why is it "runners-up", as opposed to the naïve "runner-ups"?

Is there a rule to remember for these situations?

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Related: Chambers of Commerce? – RegDwigнt Dec 18 '10 at 21:11
Chambers of Commerce is well established. The likes of runner-up are not quite the same. – Kris Dec 24 '11 at 14:55
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The hyphenate runner-up contains a noun and an adverb/preposition. Only nouns can be pluralized. Since it is still hyphenated, the parts maintain their grammatical value.

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Thanks. I guess, 10 years into the future, when "runner-up" has been molten into "runnerup", its plural would change. ;) – Tomalak Dec 18 '10 at 21:17
Now I'm curious: Why is it "pat-downs", not "pats-down"? – Tomalak Dec 19 '10 at 11:07
@Tomalak: I think in that case SingLow's answer doesn't quite apply. I think the components are a verb and a preposition, and only together do they become a noun, and thus you pluralize the whole thing. Same goes for sit-ups and push-ups. – John Y Dec 20 '10 at 5:57

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