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
  • The OP is asking "why", not which form is correct, so I don't think the question should be closed. – Mari-Lou A Mar 20 '16 at 13:12

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
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    Now I'm curious: Why is it "pat-downs", not "pats-down"? – Tomalak Dec 19 '10 at 11:07
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    @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
  • @Tomalak seems to be one of many cases in the English language where there is a rule, and way too many exceptions for the rule. – Jaketr00 Mar 11 '16 at 14:47

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