The full sentence is
I get a bit confused with 的. I understand that the sentence means “there are only 3 people that get full marks.”
Please help me out. Thank you guys :D
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As Tang Ho has said, (考生) was implied in the original sentence.
The full sentence should be 听说只有三个得了满分的(考生)。
To understand this sentence fully, a diagram is required. I'll analyze the fragment: 只有三个得了满分的(考生)。
/-----Predicate-----\ 只有三个得了满分的(考生)。 Predicate contains the verb and the object. —————————————————————————————————————————— /-Predicator-\/-----Object-----\ 只有 三个得了满分的(考生)。 Predicator is the verb. —————————————————————————————————————————— /-Adverbial-\/-Head-\ 只 有 The adverbial 只 (only) describes 有 (exist) /-Modifier-\/----Head----\ 三个 得了满分的(考生) 三个 modifies 得了满分的(考生). There are three of (examinees who have attained full marks) —————————————————————————————————————————— /-Modifier-\ /-Head-\ 得了满分 的 (考生) \-Predicate-/ 得了满分 modifies 考生. Examinees who have attained full marks. I'll stop analyzing this sub-predicate (得了满分) for now. ——————————————————————————————————————————
Can I say "听说只有得了满分的三个。"?
No. You would have said "I heard that only the three (examinees) who have attained full marks."
The explanation is quite long.
As explained above, 考生 was the implied object and that we can further reduce the sentence if there was a question in front which states the context. For example:
Q: 有多少个得了滿分的(考生)？ How many (examinees) were there who have attained full marks? A: 听说只有三个(得了滿分的考生)。 (I) heard that there were only three (who have attained full marks).
The aim of the question was to ask how many there were. And so, the answer conveyed the number.
Let us further analyze your sentence: 只有得了满分的三个(考生).
With the same logic before, using the (Modifier)的(Head) pattern, we can deduce:
This has the meaning of: "(The three examinees) who (have attained full marks)". This would make the modifier 得了满分 more important than 三个, which is not the point of the statement. These word orders change the meaning of the sentence analytically. It would only make sense in the following conversation.
Q: 哪些考生可以收到獎品？ Who in the examinees can receive prizes? A: 只有得了满分的(三个考生)。 Only those (three examinees) who have attained full marks.
However, you can reverse the order of the sentence, into:
听说得了满分的(考生)只有三个。 ≈ 听说只有三个得了满分的(考生)。
The only difference here is the focus/stress. The original sentence focuses more on the quantity of three and this reversed sentence focuses more on the state of attaining full marks. But this difference is quite subtle.