Turning down an invitation

For some reason I got it into my head that すみませんがちょっと was a way to turn down an invitation.

But for example say you were asked to do X at time Y, and you want to do X but time Y doesn't work for you. You can say よじはちょっと: in this case "4 o' clock is a little bit inconvenient".

Why does one use the particle が and the other the particle は? Or am I just completely incorrect and it should be すみませんはちょっと all along?

  • I see thank you I think I understand now, you can post as an answer and I'll accept.
    – Faust
    Jun 3 '18 at 21:50

This が does not denote the subject here, instead it means "but". "I'm sorry, but ... (insert reason, or leave it unsaid which is most common)".

For the latter case, "4 o'clock" is the topic, which is why は is used. すみませんは is never correct, unless you want to say something completely different.

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