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I found a note in Collins dictionary:

You only use ago when you are talking about a period of time measured back from the present. If you are talking about a period measured back from some earlier time, you use before or previously.

However, here are choices that all sound right to me.

A month earlier/before/ago, our relationship ended. Our relationship ended a month earlier/before/ago. (I intend to mean a month before now. I think the sentence order does not significantly affect the word choice here.)

He had died a month before/earlier/ago. He died a month ago. (I intend to mean a month measured back from the present. I think the tense does not significantly affect the word choice here.)

She had rented the flat some fourteen months previously/before/earlier.

When I make appointments, I will think obsessively about the appointments several hours previously/before/earlier.

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Another way to express this is:

ago is always used in relation to the present time.

He left six months ago. [in relation to today]

He left six months earlier. [in relation to some time in the past]. This works for earlier, before and previously [with an action verb].

You often see in movies, a mistake. The scriptwriters signal a time and use:

Six months ago, in the narration, when they mean six months earlier.

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  • You never mentioned He left six months before. Personally, I feel that the "before" version is a better fit for Past Perfect usage, so He had left six month before sounds just a bit more natural than He had left six month earlier. But I completely agree that ago is normally relative to now, not "current narrative reference time". Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 17:43
  • @FumbleFingers Everything except ago functions in the past.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 17:55
  • Unquestionably, I moved here six months ago is always always relative to now, and I moved here six months before / earlier (and perhaps previous in some contexts, not necessarily this exact example) is always relative to some pre-established "reference time" in the past. But I'm inclined to say I moved here/there six months back could be either. Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 18:10
  • @FumbleFingers Every single question on this site could be changed, revised, rewritten etc. The term back was not the question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 18:17
  • Don't you ever get tired of your negativity? Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 18:28

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