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失礼します and すみません。Is one form more polite or does it depend on the amount of time involved before someone leaves a situation? It seems like 失礼しますis used in preparation for leaving and すみません is used when actually leaving. I want to be polite when leaving a conversation, and excusing myself. Thank you.

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    I think you're going to have to clarify the type of situation you have in mind, because there can be some overlap in their usage, they are, by and large, used in different contexts. – Philippe Jul 4 '17 at 13:05
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    I'm fairly certain this has been asked before. – istrasci Jul 4 '17 at 14:57
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    ^ これですかね‥japanese.stackexchange.com/q/1699/9831 – Chocolate Jul 4 '17 at 15:46
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It seems like 失礼します is used in preparation for leaving and すみません is used when actually leaving.

失礼します and すみません have different usage.

失礼します is a phrase that could be used in this situation. Because, it basically means "Excuse me!", but it has also meanings like: "Goodbye!", "I'm leaving.", "I have to go.", "I hate to run, but...", or "I've got to go."
But, すみません means only as "Excuse me!", so it needs an additional phrase meaning the reason to leave the situation in order to use it in this situation like:

  • すみませんが失礼します。
  • すみません。ちょっと席{せき}を外{はず}させてください。
  • すみませんが急用{きゅうよう}がありますので。
  • すみません。(携帯{けいたい})電話{でんわ}が鳴{な}っていますので。
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Adding a little to what mackygoo says, it helps me to consider the characters for the expressions.

「失礼」 means rudeness, a lapse of form, so to speak. So, 「失礼します。」 is rather literally "I am rude." or "I am being rude." That's why you tend to use it when you're climbing over people's legs to get from one car to the next on the train.

「[済み]{すみ}ません。」 means "I can't clear this." Or, rather, "It doesn't end." In other words, you need to be bothersome, or to interrupt something. So you would tend to use it when you want to get someone's attention to ask directions (「済みません、[道]{みち}を[教えて]{おしえて}いただけませんか?」) or tell them they've dropped something (「済みません。[御落とし]{おおとし}[物]{もの}ではありません?」)

A phrase that is commonly used in the Kansai area is 「お[先]{さき}に失礼します。」(along with 「[お疲れ]{おつかれ}[様]{さま}です。」). But I'm not going to try to explain it because, as near as I can tell, the usage is rather dependent on the dialect. The use in Osaka is definitely different from the use in Kobe. Keep your ears open for it.

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