The relationship between activation and inhibition in word comprehension was examined in younger and older adults by using a novel Picture Identification / Negative Priming paradigm. Picture identification results showed increased interference from similar-sounding competitor words in older (compared to younger) adults. Subsequent priming probe results yielded reduced competitor inhibition with increased target word facilitation in older (compared to younger) adults. Findings suggest a link between activation and inhibition in younger adults and age-related changes in word selection mechanisms, with increased compensatory target facilitation accompanying decline in inhibitory control. Implications for models of word recognition are discussed.