We employed event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine emotional valence effects on verbal recognition memory. Using a yes/no recognition task, we focussed on prefrontal cortex responses to positive, negative and neutral words. Behavioral data confirmed enhanced processing of emotional items and functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed different subregions in the prefrontal cortex supporting retrieval of emotional words. Activations in the right mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex correlated with the correct retrieval conditions for negative words, whereas the right ventromedial and orbitofrontal prefrontal cortex showed enhanced responses to positive words. Additionally, differences between old and new items mainly affected bilateral orbitofrontal regions when processing positive words. The results are discussed in terms of higher monitoring demands owing to familiarity-based recognition bias for emotional words.