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While at first I believed it was simply bound to each individual word, I've noticed that the same onomatopoeic word sometimes has と after it and sometimes it doesn't.

Here's a case I stumbled upon:

踊り手は つま先立ってぐるぐると回った


What difference does the inclusion of と make?

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It would be interesting to know if there is a rule but I concluded it was case by case, and in some cases the と was optional: If you look up the section on onomatopoeic words in the Dictionary Basic Japanese Grammar you will see that for number of words the と is in brackets. – Tim Feb 8 '14 at 10:10

I am going to post a rather simplistic answer just covering the basics. 

There are cases (1) where adding a 「と」 is appropriate, (2) where adding a 「と」 is inappropriate, and (3) where only adding a 「に」, not a 「と」 is appropriate.

1) When an onomatopoeia functions adverbially to modify a verb, a 「と」 is often added. In very informal speech, on the contrary, it is often omitted.

「ワンワンと[犬]{いぬ}が[鳴]{な}いている。」 = "A dog is barking 'bowwow'."

「[女]{おんな}はトウキョウナゴヤをゴツンと[殴]{なぐ}り、[部屋]{へや}を[出]{で}ていった。」= "The woman clonked TokyoNagoya in the head and ran out of the room."

2) When an onomatopoeia is used with the verb 「する」, it is inappropriate to add a 「と」.

「ニコニコするなっ!ここは[陸軍]{りくぐん}だ!マクドナルドじゃねえぞっ!」 = "Don't be smiling! This is the Army, not McDonald's!"

「トウキョウナゴヤは[仕事]{しごと}もしないでブラブラしている。」 = "TokyoNagoya is bumming around all day."

3) When describing a change of state using an onomatopoeia, one would generally need to add a 「に」 instead of a 「と」.

「くたくたになるまで[歩]{ある}いた。」 = "I walked until I was pooped."

「きんきんに[冷]{ひ}やしたビールはうまい。」 = "Ice-cold beer tastes good."

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does the distinction between 擬音語 and 擬態語 matter at all? – ssb Feb 9 '14 at 9:36
So when と is optional for an onomatopeia used adverbially, it's merely a matter of formality whether it should be included or not? – Daniel Safari Feb 9 '14 at 12:56
Do Japanese people really use 鳴く for dogs instead of [吠]{ほ}える? – istrasci Feb 10 '14 at 4:39

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