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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

犬が自分のしっぽを追いかけてぐるぐる回っている

What difference does the inclusion of と make?

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  • 1
    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, 2014 at 10:10

2 Answers 2

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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 「」, 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[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[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」.

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

「きんきん[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, 2014 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? Feb 9, 2014 at 12:56
  • 1
    Do Japanese people really use 鳴く for dogs instead of [吠]{ほ}える?
    – istrasci
    Feb 10, 2014 at 4:39
  • ↑めっちゃ追加質問きてるやんwww気づかんかった
    – Chocolate
    Jul 31, 2017 at 1:03
  • Isn't there an exception to the first case when the verb being modified typically takes a quotativeと? Like きっぱり言う, ゆっくり書く?
    – macraf
    Aug 3, 2017 at 3:37
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Chapter 8 of A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar explains the と that follows an onomatopoeia.

"Each sound symbolism is an adverb associated with a specific verb. The adverb is normally followed by the quote marker to, because the sound symbolism is perceived as a quotation."

What I am about to write below is purely an inference. I do not have the intuition of a native/fluent speaker, so please take it with a grain of salt. To attempt to answer the question as to what difference the inclusion of と makes, I infer the following from the explanation cited above.

  1. Without と, the onomatopoeia is simply an adverb: きらきら光る = to shine sparkingly.
  2. The addition of と makes the description more vivid: きらきらと光る = to shine in a "kirakira" way. Somehow the sound symbolism plus the quotation particle と give a more immersive experience as if the reader/hearer imagines seeing the "kirakira" sparkle.

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