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Hou ga ii can follow verbs used for giving suggestions and advices. To omoimasu, which means 'I think', often follows this expression, making it sound less assertive. It follows verbs in the ta-form (plain affirmative past) and the nai-form (plain negative past). It can also follow verbs in the dictionary form, but the expression sounds more direct than when it is followed by verbs in the ta-form.

Essential Japanese Grammar, page 194.

From there on the book provides some examples, but no verb in plain negative past form, nakatta-form, is exemplified and, in my little experience, I have never come across such example.

In other words, given the sentence「子供の周りでタバコを吸わない方がいいね」, can we instead say「子供の周りでタバコを吸わなかった方がいいね」? That is, can we use 吸わなかった instead of 吸わない?

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  • No, you can't. This has been asked and discussed several times here on this site. Check out this answer to "Why is a verb in the past (た形) contradicted with ~ていない?"
    – Eddie Kal
    Aug 31 at 21:01
  • @EddieKal I understand your point. However, isn't 吸わなかった方がいい nevertheless grammatical, just that it says something different: "It would have been better had you not smoked." Right?
    – A.Ellett
    Aug 31 at 22:54
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    @A.Ellett: That would be 吸わない方がよかった. 吸わなかった方がよかった is acceptable, though.
    – aguijonazo
    Sep 1 at 0:04
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You cannot use ~しなかった方がいい to express a future recommendation.

た in ~した方がいい is there to express the perfect aspect, not the past tense (See: In front of "ほうがいい," is it always past tense?). You cannot attach た to ~しない in this construction because ~しない is not an action you can start or complete.

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