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Here's the text from my book:

-У вас есть стихи Лермонтова? -Нет, к сожалению, стихи Лермонтова проданы. -Но ведь они были несколько дней тому назад! -Да, но всё уже продано.

I don't understand the usage of "тому" here. What is its effect on this sentence, and what's the difference between this sentence and simply saying "Но ведь они были несколько дней назад!"?

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    Long story short, "тот" and "тому (назад)" shouldn't be thought as the same word here: one is a general-purpose pronoun and another is a part of a set phrase. To better grasp the meaning and make things more fun, I'd suggest a non-canonical translation of "100 лет тому вперед" (a popular book title by Kir Bulychev) as a "100 years back to the future". What I mean is that you can actually think of those words ("тому назад") as "back then" or "back there".
    – DK.
    Feb 28 at 3:49

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Тому́ наза́д is a set expression meaning "ago":

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/тому_назад

Назад is a shorter and more modern way of the saying the same.

Note that the time span is in the Accusative:

  • неделю (тому) назад

which in most cases coincides with the Nominative:

  • год назад
  • три дня назад

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