Starting with:

Creo que él lo hizo.

If I wanted to say the opposite in the simplest and most precise way posible it seems I have a few obvious options:

  1. No creo que él lo haga.
  2. No creía/creí que él lo hiciera
  3. No creo que él lo haya hecho.
  4. No creía/creí que él lo hubiera hecho.

These all seem solidly grammatically correct. But in my mind none of those are actually precise. They all change the meaning and a reverse translation does not (in my mind) give the original.

What I want to say is that the belief is right now and I want to keep the present tense in the independent clause. I want to use the required subjunctive and I want to indicate that the dependent clause was in the past but does not continue to the present. So I say:

  1. No creo que él lo hiciera.

Native speakers always seem to understand me, I don't get corrected, I've seen a few (very non-authoritative) "real world" uses:


(interested in the headline nothing more)

And there's even this which a few other sites seems to copy verbatim: http://www.spanishdict.com/answers/100058/imperfect-subjunctive#.VzaOG5HhDIU

Use Number 2.

However, the spanishdict "Reference Article" has various errors, most other explanations of uses of the Imperfect Subjunctive do not cover this usage and I have seen other posts here on StackExchange which seem to imply that this would be incorrect. I have looked in the RAE for guidance but cannot seem to find what I am looking for.

I like the precision and clarity of understanding in option 5, should I keep using it or is its usage on shaky/incorrect ground and I should forget about it before it becomes a bad habit?

  • haya hecho is generally the preferred in formal Spanish (note generally, not always). hiciera can be used as the subjunctive equivalent of either hizo (and thus often ha hecho), hacía, or haría. Hubiera/se hecho would not be strictly equivalent, although it wouldn't result in anything per se grammatically incorrect. The RAE's Gramática does talk about the correlation between the indicative and subjunctives, but I won't be able to look it up to give you a full answer until Monday. Perhaps someone else can in the meantime Commented May 14, 2016 at 4:53

1 Answer 1


As Guifa already explained in the comments section, the subjunctive mood is less specific than the indicative. Thus, the nine forms of the indicative correspond to only four forms in the subjunctive, which means there isn't a one-to-one relationship between both moods1. The Pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo can be the subjunctive counterpart of three forms2:

  • Pretérito perfecto simple: Pensé que llegó → No pensé que llegara.
  • Pretérito imperfecto: Pensé que llegaba → No pensé que llegara.
  • Condicional: Pensé que llegaría → No pensé que llegara.

The Pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo is usually used when the main verb is in the past:

No creí que lo hiciera.

However, this is not the only possibility. As NGLE explains, the main verb can also be in the present tense, giving rise to two perfectly grammatical constructions:

(i) No creí que lo hiciera.
(ii) No creo que lo hiciera.

(ii) is the negated counterpart of Creo que lo hizo, while (i) is the counterpart of Creí que lo haría. An important difference between the two, as NGLE goes on to say, is that only (i) implies that he actually did it. In other words, (i) negates a belief, while (ii) negates a fact rather than a belief:

(i) No creí que lo hiciera. = No tenía la creencia de que lo fuera a hacer (pero lo hizo).
(ii) No creo que lo hiciera. = No lo hizo, a mi parecer.

Now, it is also true that No creo que lo haya hecho is slightly more common than No creo que lo hiciera. Strictly speaking, No creo que lo haya hecho is the negated counterpart of Creo que lo ha hecho, while No creo que lo hiciera is the counterpart of Creo que lo hizo. However, No creo que lo haya hecho is commonly used when Creo que lo hizo is what would be expected in the positive statement. That is:

Creo que Unamuno murió en 1936. (Creo que Unamuno ha muerto en 1936 isn't good style)
No creo que Unamuno haya muerto/muriese en 1936. (Both haya muerto and muriese are good style).

So in your case, both forms are correct and neither makes my alarm go off.

Now, let's take a look at your other alternatives and their positive counterparts. Since the subjunctive is less specific, there may be more than one positive statement for each negative one:

  • No creo que él lo haga → Creo que él lo hace/hará
  • No creía/creí que él lo hiciera → Creí/creía que él lo hizo/hacía/haría
  • No creo que él lo haya hecho → Creo que él lo ha hecho/hizo/habrá hecho
  • No creía/creí que él lo hubiera hecho → Creía/creí que él lo había hecho/habría hecho.

As you can see, No creo que él lo haya hecho is a possible alternative to No creo que él lo hiciera. Nevertheless, I have to say here that RAE doesn't list the pretérito perfecto simple (hizo) as a possitive counterpart for the pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo (haya hecho)see link 1. I don't know why, but I have to admit that No creo que Unamuno muriese en 1936 sounds better than No creo que Unamuno haya muerto en 1936. The latter, on the other hand, doesn't sound as bad as Creo que Unamuno ha muerto en 1936, so it's obviously more complicated than just ha muerto → haya muerto. Maybe someone can elaborate on that a little bit further. For all I know, No creo que él lo hiciera is most certainly not incorrect, and it sounds perfectly natural to me.


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