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I want to hang out with my friend on Sunday (or some other time), what is the correct way to ask him about his ability to do it?

a)"Are you free on Sunday?" or b)"Will you be free on Sunday?"

I can feel the slight difference in the meaning of these two phrases (present continuous is used for asking about plans, while future simple doesn't), but I don't completely understand it. Is there real difference and what phrase should I use?

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"Are you" is the present tense, while "will you be" is future continuous tense.

Technically speaking then, the difference is that "are you free on Sunday" is asking somebody for their present plans or the current state of their diary for Sunday. Either they are currently free, or they are not. "Will you be free on Sunday" is asking if they anticipate being free on that day, which is slightly different. For example, they may have something booked in but they might know there is a possibility of it being cancelled, so the answer might be slightly less straight-forward. You could also ask someone "can you be free", which is really asking if they have plans they could cancel and free up the time for you.

Idiomatically though, they are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing.

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